Feeding hungry minds
The Salvation Army in Clearfield, Pa. goes mobile to help low-income youth stay fed in mind and body
Before Captains Kevin and Helen Johnson of the Clearfield (Pa.) Corps even began piloting a new Mobile Lunch and Literacy program in their area, they already knew it would be a success. How? They based it on a similar one created at their last assignment in Rhode Island.
“[Our initial program] worked really well,” Captain Helen Johnson recalled. “When The Salvation Army van came around the corner, the kids would all come running. They couldn’t wait for us to get there.”
The new Clearfield pilot program kicked off on June 13, and will run five days a week, Monday through Friday, until Aug. 26. Replicating the initiative for Clearfield just seemed like a natural outgrowth of the Army’s other local programming, Johnson said.
“We already have a good relationship with kids and parents here,” she continued. “Just about all of the kids who come to our after-school program also come to the food pantry.”
Knowing that during the summer months the children who depended on school lunch programs were missing that meal, corps leadership felt moved to fill the gap. “Some of the parents are either working like crazy or have their own issues to deal with,” said Johnson. “That’s why these kids are struggling.”
The program makes use of an Emergency Disaster Services (EDS) canteen, taking volunteer-prepared lunches to a nearby low-income housing development, where blankets are strewn across the lawn for kids to lounge on while enjoying a healthy meal along with their story hour.
“It made sense that instead of trying to get families to come to us, for us to go to the kids,” said Johnson. “We’re doing something no one else in the community is.”
While the lunch part might seem like a no-brainer, the literacy aspect is just as important, “because kids need to keep learning over the summer,” Johnson said. “A whole summer of not reading sets them back so far.”
Through their engagement with the program, Johnson said she hopes more kids and adults are introduced to the myriad services offered at The Salvation Army. “We want to open the door to them,” she said. “Let them know there are so many options available.”
Meanwhile, it was community contributions that played a vital role in getting Lunch and Literacy off the ground, and the kindness of the many strangers who stepped up to make the initiative possible has made a lasting impression on the youth served. “So many kids have no hope,” Johnson said. “This program may just be a sandwich and some books, but it’s instilling so much more.”