The Outback Strong Summer Lunch Program is coming back.
Organizers are working now to plan the 2018 program — and they need your help. The program returned to Lake County last summer after a three-year hiatus, and its success would not have been possible without a huge community effort.
In 2017, 80 volunteers and a handful of paid Lake Health District staff members worked to bring the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Summer Food Service Program back to Lakeview. The program was once a vital part of Lakeview’s summer, serving up lunches to hungry kids each day at McDonald City Park (better known as the kiddie park).
The program was absent for a few years, until retiring Head Start director Vicky Taylor asked Lake Health District CEO Charlie Tveit if his organization could take it on. Tveit agreed, and the health district secured sponsorship and supporting grant dollars to make the program bigger and better than ever.
The Outback Strong Summer Lunch Program served 2,373 lunches in 2017. Lake Health District operated two sites all summer long: the kiddie park and Goose Lake State Recreation Area in New Pine Creek. The health district served lunches at Union School through the month of July, when minimal turnout led to the site’s closure. The health district also served lunches during two churches’ vacation Bible schools: First Baptist Church and Christian Life Center Church of God.
Lake Health District is in the process of applying for sponsorship again in 2018 and will be applying for grants to support the program. Some grant funding will support educational, recreational, and enrichment activities for kids. These activities are an important component of the Outback Strong Summer Lunch Program: They give kids a chance to be creative, learn, and be active. It’s a chance to play outside and spend time with family members and friends.
The summer lunch program is intended to ensure kids who might not have consistent access to food when school is out of session have a healthy meal five days a week. But the Outback Strong program isn’t limited to kids whose families meet a particular income requirement. Any kid 18 and younger can get a free lunch at the program. The organizers just want to feed hungry kids, regardless of whether their pantries at home are full.
This year's program will run for nearly 12 weeks, from June 11 through August 29. Sites will be announced as soon as they are finalized.
There are many opportunities to be part of this year’s program. Volunteers are needed to serve lunches, to help promote the program in the community, to help with activities, to help prepare lunches, and more. Lake County’s massive volunteer effort in 2017 led to the Outback Strong Summer Lunch Program winning a regional USDA award for excellence in community partnerships. Don’t miss this chance to be part of the fun in 2018.