May 16, 2012ASHLAND—When you think about starving children, you think about television advertisements asking you to donate a dollar a day to help feed children in third world countries. These advertisements are easy to ignore when the problem seems far from home.
Hunger in your hometown isn't as easy to ignore.
With one in six children going hungry in the United States alone, Ashland resident Patty Heinz has taken matters into her own hands, introducing the Got Lunch program to the Ashland community for this summer.
"I have known these kids need help for a while," said Heinz. "There are hungry children in Ashland, and people will say, 'No, I don't think so,' but there are."
At the Got Lunch kickoff lunch on May 9 at the Common Man Inn in Ashland, community members gathered to raise money for the program's mission.
"Our mission is to make sure every child will not go to be hungry at night," said Heinz.
Got Lunch is a program put together by John Walker and Rev. Paula Gile, and is going into its second year in Laconia. The program was started to address concerns about feeding children during the summer who have free or reduced lunch during the school year.
"The program is designed so that we deliver lunches for the week to them, and the next week, we go get the bag and deliver another bag for the next week," said Heinz.
Laconia's program is feeding around 323 children during the summer, and Ashland is looking at providing lunches for between 75 and 100 students during the 11 week program.
"It costs approximately $110 per child for the season," said Heinz. "We are trying to have people sponsor one child, which would be $110. To feed one child for a week is $10."
The Got Lunch program is unique because there are no regulations or qualifications to sign up for the program for the summer.
"There are no requirements," said Heinz. "Anyone can apply, and there is nothing that would stop them from applying. There are no guidelines."
A key part of the Got Lunch program is to ensure that children will be getting healthy and nutritious lunches every day.
"The bags will contain all healthy foods," said Heinz. "It will rotate each week between whole wheat bread, peanut butter, tuna, some kind of chicken, soup, mini ravioli, two pieces of fruit and two vegetables, and whatever else the food bank has to offer."
The meals will, however, be missing a dairy component until they figure out a way to ensure that the dairy products will not be spoiled upon delivery.
"We can't give them dairy products yet because they will spoil," said Heinz. "We are working on a way to get them dairy through vouchers or something."
Since Got Food is a church program through the Episcopal Church, other churches in the Ashland area have teamed up to help out as well, including the Methodist, Baptist and Catholic churches. Aside from the help of other local churches, the program will be receiving a grant from the Episcopal Church.
"I don't know how much the grant is for, but I was told we are getting a grant," said Heinz. "We need around $7,500 to run the program for the summer."
Even though the program has received a wave of support from local church communities, the program wouldn't be possible without assistance from other local establishments, including the Common Man Inn and Bob's Shur Fine Market.
"Alex Ray and the Common Man inn and Bob's Shur Fine Market are helping us out a lot, and we are so grateful for that," said Heinz. "We are also members of the food bank now, and that is where our food will be coming from."
With between $500 and $600 already raised for the program in donations, Heinz and others invested in the program continue to look for monetary donations and volunteer efforts as the summer quickly approaches.
"We will be needing volunteers from members of the church and the community," said Rev. Jim of St. Mark's Episcopal Church. "There will be plenty of volunteer opportunities this summer."
The last piece of the puzzle in the community has been the church's partnership with the school to help reach out to the children and families in Ashland, and to encourage children to sign up for this program.
"The program itself is through the church, although we have been in partnership with the school because they sent home the permission slips," said Heinz. "The school nurse has been a big help, and has been encouraging certain children to make sure they apply."
The school is very supportive of the program; since so many families qualify for free or reduced lunch during the school year, it makes sense to have a program that continues to feed children during the summertime.
"It makes so much sense to be doing something for these kids," said Superintendent Phil McCormack. "We do means for them during the school year but this is a wonderful program for the summer."
With lots of support from the community and plenty of hard work, Heinz and everyone invested in the Got Lunch! program as getting one step closer to fighting hunger in the community.
"Getting this program going has been kind of a hard sell because people don't think that we have hungry children," said Heinz. "That's what we want to do; make sure no child goes to be hungry at night."
The next fundraising opportunity for the Got Lunch program will be on May 30 at the Common Man in Ashland, where you can dine to fight hunger in the Ashland community.
To get involved, sign up for the program, volunteer or donate to Got Lunch, contact Heinz at 968-1073, and to send a donation, make checks out to "Got Lunch Ashland" and either drop them off or mail them to St. Mark's Episcopal Church, 18 Highland St., Ashland, NH 03217. Also, there will be a link to the Got Lunch program on the town of Ashland's Web site.