Lt. Kiley Williams of the Derry Salvation Army remembers one little boy who came to the Army’s food truck last summer. “He was ‘bummed’ because it was the last week,” Williams said. “I had to tell him, ‘You have to go back to school.’”
Williams and her husband, Lt. Chris Williams, directors of the local Salvation Army, are determined that that boy and others like him go back to school with full bellies. They are offering their Summer Food Program for the third year in two Derry locations.
Kiley Williams said the church started the program two years ago, after the couple’s first year in Derry. “The first summer we were here, we didn’t do it. We were still figuring out where the need is, and still new to being officers,” she said.
During training in New York, they heard a speaker from Massachusetts talking about free summer lunch programs for children. It struck home with the Williams, who have two young daughters, and they knew they could do it in Derry. They already had a food truck, their “canteen,” she said.
They started in 2011 with reasonable results. “It wasn’t bad for the first year,” Williams said, explaining that people had to get used to the idea. They had a good response at the Fairways Apartments, and a mediocre one at their second site, where they only served 10 meals.
Last year they were downtown, and that didn’t work out well either, she said.
This year they will serve meals one day a week at the Fairways and one day a week at Hood Park, Williams said. They will be at the Fairways by the pool on Tuesdays and at Hood Park on Thursdays, both from noon to 1 p.m., serving a hot lunch to children.
With volunteers and funds permitting, “we hope to add more days,” Williams said.
The “typical lunch” is a hot dog and/or hamburger, though she has bread available if a child just wants peanut butter and jelly. In addition, children receive a bag lunch with applesauce or a fruit cup, pretzels or chips, and water or a juice box.
Last summer the Army also started receiving leftover bread from the Derry Panera Bread restaurant, and they handed it out to the families, Williams said.
The Army served 800 lunches last summer, she said. The parents really appreciate it, Chris Williams said, with one mother coming to him “almost in tears” last year.
The canteen is staffed by the Advisory Board, some church members and other volunteers, Kiley Williams said. The food is purchased through donations, or obtained from the New Hampshire Food Bank. Though they are not limited by federal Graduation Wishes lunch guidelines, Williams said they are mindful of children’s health and, “We try to do something semi-healthy.”
Why do they do it? Many children are on their own for summer meals, she pointed out, after their Free or Reduced Lunch ends with the school year. They don’t always eat sensibly on their own, and sometimes the cupboard is bare or filled with junk foods, she said.
She was pleased this year to see children supporting children. A local Girl Scout troop made up 100 of the snack bags for her, so she’s set for the first day.
Other civic groups are welcome to sponsor a day of snacks, she said, adding, “We have the bags!”
Donations of non-perishable, reasonably healthy snacks such as applesauce or fruit cups are also welcome, she said, to help fill the bags. The program starts Tuesday, June 25, at the Fairways and continues Thursday, June 27, at Hood Park.
For more information, to donate or to sponsor a day of snacks, call 434-7790.