Hot meals for hungry children: Church provides free lunches

Photo by Andrea Poteet

First Presbyterian Church of Wyandotte parishioner John Winslow holds a sign advertising the church’s USDA Summer Food Program Wednesday.

Sunday Times Newspapers

WYANDOTTE – For children who count on free school lunches, the summer can mean going hungry.

A local church is trying to change that.

First Presbyterian Church of Wyandotte is serving up free lunches to children under 18 and disabled adults up to 26 as part of its USDA Summer Food Program.

The meals are provided by the United States Department of Agricuture through the Lincoln Park Schools’ food service program and are the same lunches children eat during the school year. To qualify, a site must be within a mile of a school in which more than 50 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches, but there are no need requirements for children to receive the meals.

The Rev. Arthur Obergh said his church started the program this year after learning that 57 percent of children at Washington Elementary and 100 percent of children at Garfield Elementary qualified for subsidized lunches.

“For a lot of these kids, if they are not in school, they don’t get a lunch,” Obergh said. “We wanted to make sure we were able to provide a healthy USDA-approved lunch for all kids in the community.”

The program, which runs through Aug. 5, serves the meals from 11:30 am to 12:30 pm Monday through Friday at the church, located at 2250 Oak St. The site is the first of its kind in Wyandotte. Southgate has two sites and Lincoln Park has several.

Parishioners serve the meals and chat with the children as they eat. Obergh said they also have gone to great lengths to help drum up more interest in the program, which so far has drawn only about seven children a day. Parishioners have donned clown suits, hung signs and practiced their best Rockette-style kicks outside of the church to try to draw more attention to the program, he said.

John Winslow, a parishioner and professional clown, dons his big shoes and orange wig to help serve the meals.

“Some kids react well,” he said. “Some are a little intimidated. Usually, I can win them over.”

Parishioner Jim Kresin, who brought the program to the congregation after reading a newspaper article about it, said he hopes more children start coming when news of the program spreads. Other area sites have upwards of 100 children, but have been providing the meals for several years.

“It’s another one of those word-of-mouth things,” he said.

Obergh said the program started because the congregation wanted a way to help out in their community.

“The congregation really wanted to get out in the community and serve them,” he said. “This is a great way to do it.”

Parishioner Dorlene Delezenne said she volunteers for the program to help others and to help make a good name for her church.