“It’s been a long time since they’ve been able to do the lunch program,” Bell, a member of the Life Center Church, said. “I think it’s really a blessing to be able to do it for these kids.”
Sponsored by the Life Center Church in Anniston, the program is open to children under 18 and adults with disabilities. No registration is required to participate.
“The kids just come up and get their meals,” said Eugene Leonard, the pastor of the Life Center Church.
The program is funded by the members of the church, who have also hired 14 college students and unemployed adults to prepare and transport the meals. Also an anonymous donor gave money to provide meals for the first two weeks of the program, said Tabatha Best, a member of the Life Center Church who has helped to spearhead the program.
Meal preparation will start “no later than 6:30,” Leonard said, adding that the meals will be delivered to each serving location by 8 a.m.
Through a partnership with the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, the Life Center Church has chosen three locations around Anniston to serve breakfast and lunch Monday through Friday. Breakfast will be served at the Carver Community Center from 8 a.m. until 9 a.m. and at the Glen Addie Boys and Girls Club from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. Lunch will also be served at the two facilities from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Lunch only will be served at the South Highland Community Center from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Leonard said the church worked with the parks department to choose facilities in communities with large numbers of children within walking distance.
“It’s for all kids,” he said. “So parents can transport them to each location or they can walk to each location.”
Although most parents dropped their children off Monday morning, Anthony Hutchinson sat with his younger sister and two daughters as they ate their breakfasts on the Carver Center stage.
“I heard about it through my children,” he explained, adding his girls participate in the meal programs at Cobb Elementary School during the school year. “They moved it [from the school] and made it a good environment up here at the center. I think it’s good.”
Best said the meals would provide the same type of balanced nutrition children receive at school during the school year.
“In the morning, it will consist of fruit, a meat and bread. It’s just going to vary,” she said.
Best said the lunches would vary too, from sandwiches to hot lunches with fruit.
“There will always be milk,” she added.
Like Best, Leonard said the goal of the program is to help kids get the same nutrition they would receive during the school year.
“When they’re in school, they receive breakfast and lunch. The summer nutrition program is designed so the kids don’t skip a beat in terms of nutrition,” he said. “We wanted to make sure that the child gets the most important meal of the day.”
He added the program will also help alleviate some of the burden young and lower income parents feel during the summer. Leonard said some parents simply cannot afford to feed their children three balanced meals a day.
Best agreed with Leonard, adding that the Anniston area had a similar summer meal program when she was a child.
“I think it’s important to help the kids,” Best said. “Some kids, this is all they get. That’s how it was when I was growing up.”
Anniston Mayor Vaughn Stewart echoed Best’s thoughts, and said he supports the program and salutes the efforts of the Life Center.
“The meal is huge,” he said. “We have child hunger right here in Anniston, and that’s intolerable as far as I’m concerned.”
Leonard said he expects the program to feed 450 to 500 children per day at all three locations. He is excited to see the turnout, and said the church is already planning to expand the program next summer.
Stewart said he would also like to see the program expand in the coming years.
“I would like to incorporate it into a larger summer program,” he said, “so that they’re not just fed physically, but they’re fed with knowledge in life skills and tutorials in recreation.”
For now, Leonard is happy with the work his congregation has done.
“We do things with the community in mind,” he said. “God has blessed us. We want to make sure we give back.”
Editor's note: This story has been modified to correct the time breakfast is to be served at the Glen Addie Boys and Girls Club.