Story last updated at 5/29/2013 - 2:08 pm
Just about one in three elementary children in Juneau receive subsidized school lunches, and now the school year is over.
Children who need financial assistance to eat aren't likely to be enrolled in camps and summer programs that supply lunches.
Tari Stage-Harvey is the pastor at Shepherd of the Valley Church (SVC) in the Mendenhall Valley. Before moving to Juneau, Stage-Harvey was a pastor in a small town in Michigan. There were six churches in that town, and they collaborated by developing a central food bank, thrift store and emergency hotline.
"I saw how a community can change when agencies collaborate, so with the help of United Way we started gathering the different food agencies in town to talk about what they offer, who they serve, and what gaps people are noticing," Stage-Harvey said.
Last year SVC began a summer lunch program. Also on board is the Douglas Methodist Church (DMC), with a program called "lunch is served."
"Since 2011, Juneau's Food Resourcing Committee, which consists of local faith and community organizations, has been working to assess and provide accessibility to food resources," said Cindy Roberts, the Douglas Methodist Church pastor.
According to Stage-Harvey, last year's program was supported by Aldersgate United Methodist Church, Eagle Wings Community Church, Juneau Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, Juneau Community Foundation, Thrivent Financial for Lutherans (a member-owned Fortune 500 fraternal benefit society), Association of Alaska School Boards' Initiative for Community Engagement and many other individuals throughout the community.
The lunch service will begin on Monday, June 3. The SVC will kick off the program with a bike rodeo, from 4-6 p.m. on June 2.
"There were several obstacles that we noticed last year that impeded youth's involvement," Stage-Harvey said. "One was the suspicion of the church by many. We hope the bike rodeo will give folks a chance to look around, ask questions and see that we don't have a hidden agenda other than feeding and loving kids."
The Sunday event will include a bike course set by the Alaska Department of Transportation.
"I approached the DOT about teaching safety and helping youth find safe routes and make good choices," Stage-Harvey said. "It's also a great chance to teach bike safety to parents so they reinforce those skills at home."
Alaska Injury Prevention Center and Thrivent Financial for Lutherans are collaborating to provide helmets for children. The Juneau Freewheelers Bike Club and other volunteers will be around to provide minor bike repairs and to teach youth how to perform their own bike maintenance.
In addition, the Juneau Police Department will be coordinating a bike swap, and the Home Depot has donated bike locks.
"There has been a crew of saints working on the confiscated bikes donated by JPD," Stage-Harvey said. "The police department allowed us to refurbish unclaimed bikes that will be used for the bike swap and (for) possible give away."
Both the DMC and SVC's programs include activities each afternoon in addition to meals. The DMC service begins at noon each weekday and runs through 2 p.m.
The SVC's program will run on weekdays from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m.
"One of our goals is to remove every obstacle in a kids' way, but not to do everything for him or her," Stage-Harvey said. "Youth would complain about how bikes were stolen, or broken, or had flat tires so they couldn't ride them. Enabling youth to ride bikes safely to the summer lunch program is a big goal."
Stage-Harvey said that bike buddies, middle schoolers associated with the church, have stepped up and offered to escort youth to and from the program.
"Youth who arrive early will have organized games like kickball, basketball, bubbles and capture the flag," Stage-Harvey said. "At 12:30 the youth come inside, get lunch and then may read or be read to until the activity is ready."
The SVC hosts various activities, depending on the weekday. Mondays are science days. A science station will be set-up and participants will receive instruction on how to plant seeds for the church garden, filet salmon, shoot marshmallows and make "slime." Tuesdays include nature activities, and Wednesdays are cooking days. The participants assist in cooking their own lunch, and last year it was a popular activity. On Thursdays, the SVC offers a craft day, and Bible stories and music occur on Fridays.
"The goal is for youth to interact with adults, learn, have fun and explore something new," Stage-Harvey said.
Simon Smith was one of the children who attended the SVC lunch and activity program last summer.
"What I liked about the summer lunch program is that I get to see old friends and taste new foods that I might like," Smith wrote in a survey submitted to the church. "It's pretty nice to get away from the computer and go to lunch with my friends instead of just stay with my face in the computer ,TV, or video games."
SVC estimated it will spend around $400 a week on food, and that monetary donations are more helpful than food donations.
Both the SVC and DMC are also looking for adult volunteers.
"We are strict about the rule that no adult is ever alone with children so if we feel like we don't have enough volunteers to sustain that then we will adjust accordingly," Stage-Harvey said. "We emphasize and practice that this church is a safe place."
To volunteer for the Shepherd of the Valley summer lunch program, visit www.sovlutheran.org. The Douglas Methodist Church can be reached at 364-2408.
Amanda Compton is the staff writer for Capital City Weekly. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.