By JIM MISUNAS
LARNED — When Debbie and Eli Makings heard about a program to feed children in church on a Sunday morning, they decided to take action.
Debbie, a kindergarten teacher at Hillside Elementary, and Eli, a deputy for the Pawnee County sheriff’s department attended a training session in Wichita at the Summer Meals Summit sponsored by the USDA earlier this year.
“I knew some of my students would benefit and our supervisors encouraged us to attend,” said Debbie Makings. “Our goal was for the students to receive social interaction. We knew if got things rolling, the community would volunteer.”
The Makings pitched a proposal to their Pastor Bethann Black, who welcomed the church ministry to the community.
“Our church is centrally located with a nice kitchen,” Makings said. “We worked with the Kansas State Department of Education to fill out the application. We took professional days to earn more training.”
Supported by the USDA, a program to offer children a nutritional lunch in Pawnee County soon became a reality.
Any child between the ages of one to 18 can eat for free between 11:30 and 12:30 p.m. Monday through Friday in the Fellowship Hall of the United Methodist Church through the end of July. Adults can eat lunch for $3.70. The program is run completely by volunteers, from cooking the food to supervising those who are eating to cleaning up.
Volunteers from churches, civic organizations, Fort Larned USD 495, the city, and others donate their time to serve these kids a nutritional meal.
Some of the food is donated, but the USDA also reimburses the sponsors for each child they feed.
The program was publicized through local media, on Facebook and through fliers distributed at schools and in the community.
“It’s been very amazing,” Makings said. “We were prepared for maybe 50 students and we’ve had as many as 111. It’s exceeded our expectations and that’s been good. We’ve had everybody from the community attend. It’s a safe place to have a balanced lunch.”
Kelly Chanay. Child Nutrition Consultant at Kansas State Department of Education, said a community the size of Larned usually feeds 30 to 40 youngsters a day. Larned has been serving between 70 and 80 youngsters a day. Chanay said that Larned is the only community where the program is run entirely by volunteers.
“Kelly observed us serving the community meal and all she kept saying was ‘Wow, I’ve never seen this before!’
“She has never seen a program run only by volunteers. I’m so proud to be from this small town! Thanks again to all the volunteers!”
The Makings hope that the success of the program this summer will be the building blocks for it to continue for many years to come.
The last day for the program is July 31, and any leftover funds will be put back in to the program.
Child ID Workshop
The Pawnee County sheriff’s department will sponsor a child identification information workshop at the United Methodist Church’s Fellowship Hall in Larned while lunch is being served from 11:30-12:30 Tuesday.
Children will be fingerprinted by law enforcement, and identification kits will be sent home for the parents or guardians to complete on their own. All children that day between 1-18 years old are also offered a free meal. Parents are encouraged to attend with their children and can eat for $3.70.
Contact the Pawnee County Sheriff’s Department at 620-285-2211 for further information concerning this program.
“We’ve heard nothing but positive response,” Makings said.