Summer lunch programs in Illinois to go unfunded

Children in your neighborhood may soon be going hungry.

The Illinois State Board of Education says summer lunch programs that normally make sure kids don’t miss a meal during the summer may soon be forced to close down until Illinois lawmakers appropriate the funding.

The funding for summer lunch programs comes from the USDA, not the state. But lawmakers still have to appropriate the funding for the upcoming fiscal year, which is set to expire at the end of June.

But a group in Johnston City says, whether their funding comes through, they don’t plan on closing their kitchen any time soon.

Scoop after scoop, tray after tray, volunteers like 13-year-old Travis Hammontree help put a plate of food in front of any Johnston City kid who wants one.

"I eat, and I do silverware. I help kids take their trays," said Travis Hammontree, a soon-to-be eighth-grader at Johnston City schools. Travis says he sees a lot of his classmates joining him with a plate full of food inside First Free Will Baptist Church every day.

"Ten to 20," he said, explaining how many of his classmates he usually sees at the summer lunch program.

Five days a week, every day of the summer, the Lunch Bunch in Johnston City serves between 50 and 70 kids. A lot of the funding comes from donations from around the community. Organizers say the community is key in helping with volunteer time, food and even monetary donations to keep the popular lunch program going for kids.

Pastor Kevin Fletcher runs the city’s summer lunch program. He says around 60 percent, or nearly two out of three kids, in Johnston City are on free or reduced lunch. If the state’s budget impasse blocks appropriating the program’s funding, he says he’ll fight to keep their kitchen open so they can serve the hungry kids.

"We just really want to keep the food flowing out there to the kids, because they’re hungry during the summertime," Fletcher said.

He says he sees hunger in the community with every forkful of food. They even send food home with kids on the weekends so they won’t have to miss a meal.

"They really are excited about getting that. It’s appreciated," Fletcher said.

He says even if the impasse blocks funding, they’ll find the money for it elsewhere. He says the children here need this too much to let it fail.

In a statement Friday, the Illinois State Board of Education said, unless lawmakers appropriate the funding for the summer meal programs, it will not be able to offer meals to the thousands of kids using roughly 2,000 meal sites until an education budget is passed.

Free meals are hosted through the JC Kids Lunch Bunch program inside First Free Will Baptist Church in Johnston City on Monday through Friday. All are welcome to attend, and free transportation is provided to any child in the Johnston City area.

For more information, visit their Facebook page or call 618-983-5254.

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