My routine changed last week.

Beginning in late May this year, I started prepping and serving lunches to youth here in Aurora.  The Leadership Center began sponsorship of the Summer Food Service Program, and I became the point man on the project.

The Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) is administered by the USDA Rural Development office.  In Nebraska, the program is managed by the Nebraska Department of Education’s Nutrition Services.  Simply put, the program provides funding to be used to feed youth in areas of the state with an identified need.  Since Aurora has several neighborhoods which qualify, all that was needed was a local sponsor.  Because The Leadership Center is a non-profit organization, we were eligible to become that sponsor.

I began the SFSP process last spring by sending the application to Lincoln.  After attending two training sessions in York, we were nearly approved to start feeding kids.  Then we hit an obstacle.

We had picked out this great spot to serve.  It was perfect.  Right by the pool.  Sheltered.  On a walking trail.  It was ideal.  It was also on the wrong side of the street.

There are two ways a local community qualifies for the SFSP.  The first examines the overall need in a school district.  Aurora’s school district does not meet this requirement.  The second way to qualify is by an identified need within a census block.  Our initial site was not in a need area.  We couldn’t run the program there.

After an afternoon of contemplation and a quick meeting, we found an alternate site with a qualifying address.  Happily, we made an arrangement with one of our existing partners, the Prairie Plains Resource Institute.  We moved some of our picnic tables to a grassy area along a walking trail which they manage.  Since they also manage some of the same trail on our property, they were excited about partnering with us on this new venture.

We started serving lunch on McCullough Lane the first week of June.  I think the only big day we had that first week was on Tuesday when a summer program from the school stopped to eat.  Otherwise, we mostly just served a few neighborhood kids I had hollered at as they rode their bikes past the site.

Meals in June really picked up as we spread the word about the program.  We started seeing kids who would eventually be referred to as “our regulars”.  We served kids as young as 4 and as old as 18 (the program age limit).  We figured out which vegetables the kids would eat and the fact that a little ranch dressing makes every vegetable more appealing.  (Key point:  NEVER run out of ranch!)

July is slow in most Summer Food Service Programs, I’m told, and ours was no exception.  During the month our numbers decreased a little, finally leveling off at about 10-12 meals per day.  Though we had a few days with only a handful of kids, every meal I served was worth my time.

The kids are all back in school now.  I miss seeing them every day as part of my routine.  I’m glad that I had the opportunity to meet them and spend some great time with them.  I’m also pleased that I could ensure that some of those children had the chance to get an extra nutritious meal which they may not have otherwise received.

-Kurt Wissenburg

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