by Mary (Galer) Herschelman, The Journal-News
It started with a community need.
During the school year, more than 50 percent of the Hillsboro School District population is on free and reduced lunches in the community. That leaves a problem for those same students during the summer months, who may not get a hot meal for lunch.
"We felt like this was a community need," said volunteer Pam Dawson. "And the best way to solve a community problem is with the community."
Free summer lunches will be provided now through July 26 at Hillsboro Area Hospital, Monday-Friday from noon to 1 p.m.
There are no income restrictions or reservations needed. All children ages 18 and under who show up will be fed.
To get started, Dawson began researching other summer food programs in the area and approached Hillsboro Area Hospital to see if they would be willing to help. The hospital immediately jumped on board.
Through her friend Lauralee Huber, Dawson learned more about the free summer food program offered for the past five years at the New Life Assembly of God Church through a partnership with the Illinois Coalition for Community Services (ICCS).
"Pam and I are very like minded individuals," said Jason Gyure, a community organizer for ICCS. "For us, it just made sense."
Gyure said last year ICCS offered free summer lunch programs at 15 sites around Illinois, providing around 16,000 meals. This summer, they are helping with 34 summer food program sites and hope to provide 25,000 free lunches to children in Illinois.
He added that ICCS has never partnered with a hospital before, and is excited about the resources and facilities the hospital provides.
Meals are reimbursed through the United States Department of Agriculture, and ICCS helps with the paperwork aspect as well.
In addition to ICCS and Hillsboro Area Hospital, the Montgomery County chapter of Thrivent Financial and Litchfield Family Dentistry have also provided funds to get this program running.
Dawson also highlighted the more than 50 volunteers who have already signed up to help.
"We started with churches and teachers, people who are available in the summer," said Dawson, who is a retired third grade teacher. "This program could not run without these volunteers."
Volunteers will help on site to making sure the program runs smoothly, and Roy Sturm of Hillsboro United Methodist Church has volunteered to provide transportation each day in the church van to and from the Montgomery County Housing Authority in Hillsboro.
"The goal of ICCS is bringing a community together to work for the common good and help those in need," Gyure said. He added that volunteers who help with the program make it possible for them to serve more communities and more programs throughout the state.
In addition to the free meals, Fusion Fitness and Aquatics will provide free activities on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11 a.m. to noon. Heck said they want to provide mentoring opportunities to youth and help promote healthy lifestyles.
"The hospital really sees this as a chance to give back," Heck said.
Anyone wishing to volunteer may contact Dawson or Hillsboro Area Hospital Community Relations Director Rosanne Heck.
"The volunteers have been absolutely amazing," Dawson said. "Our community is wonderful. If people know there's a need, they respond."