Marlborough – For many families, summer will not include planning what beach to vacation at, but rather, how to afford the increased food bills that come with children home for lunch during the summer break.
One out of every three students in Marlborough is on the city’s free or reduced breakfast and lunch programs. Four years ago, as a campaign to end hunger in the city and give families support over the summer months, the city began a grassroots volunteer lunch program under the umbrella of the Mayor’s Youth Commission.
“The goal of the program is to ensure children receive nutritious and balanced meals when school is not in session,” Mayor Nancy Stevens said.
Peggy Ayers, chair of the Marlborough Youth Commission and a volunteer in the program since its conception, explained that summer vacation especially in the current economy can place a huge amount of stress on families already struggling financially. She anticipates that the need this summer will be well over 200 meals a day.
“I have seen a huge increase since January of community members needing services,” said Rosalind Baker, the director of Human Services for the city. “During the school year we know children whose families are facing financial challenges are getting two meals a day … I can only imagine what the needs this summer are going to be when the students are not getting those school meals.”
With half of the money needed for the program already raised, Ayers said that the organization is still in desperate need of both financial support and food donations, including items like pre-packaged snacks, fruit and juice boxes.
“We have tons of volunteers,” she said. “What we are short on are donations … We are asking that when you are doing your grocery shopping, keep us in mind … Pick up an extra box of snacks or juice boxes … It is so greatly appreciated.”
After starting the program with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and watermelon, Ayers said, she was surprised by the amount of support that the program received the first year and how it has continued to grow.
“People heard what we were doing and they rallied around us,” she said. “That is just one of those things about Marlborough: no matter what the cause, people come together … It is not the buildings or architecture; it is the people that make Marlborough.”
Having now upgraded the lunches to meat and cheese sandwiches, the small army of volunteers has the process, which includes weekly trips to grocery stores, assembly-line sandwich-making and shuttle delivery, down to a science.
The program is open to children enrolled in summer school and the Boys & Girls Club activities, as well as offering drop-in lunch sites at locations like the First Methodist Church.
“There are no questions, forms to fill out or red tape; we give lunches to any children or teenagers who need it,” Ayers said.
Lunch services began June 22 and will run until Aug. 28 on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays from 10:15 to 11:30 a.m.
“There are many families who are struggling, so I am extremely proud of our community for coming together once again to support this important initiative,” Stevens said. “I am grateful for the generous private donations which enable us to fill this significant community need.”
For more information about how or where to receive lunches or to drop off donations, call the Department of Human Services at 508-460-3758 or stop into the office located in the Walker Building, 255 Main St., Room 108-109.