Volunteer program guarantees children get fed

Sunday, July 5, 2009

SIKESTON -- Each summer day begins the same.

Veronica Mills and her two daughters, Alanna Mills, 21, and Raea Mills, 17, along with their friend, 19-year-old Brianna Johnson, arrive about 6:30 a.m. at Scott County Central Elementary where they prepare lunches to be delivered to nearly 500 children ages 0 to 18 at seven sites in the Sikeston area.

Mills and her crew spend the next four hours cooking, counting and packing milk cartons, fruit, entrees and whatever else is needed for the day's menu.

"They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but I feel like if they get the middle meal, they can make it for the next day," Mills said.

Mills and her crew work to bring the Summer Food Service Program to the area. Administered by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services and funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the program helps assure that children have access to nutritious meals during the summer months.

"The program guarantees local children are getting at least one nutritious meal a day," Mills said.

When school is not in session, the program provides reimbursement to community agencies offering the required continuum of meals. The program contracts with schools and other community-based organizations to sponsor the local programs and provide meals that meet established guidelines.

"People need to know this program is out there," Mills said, adding anyone ages 0 to 18 can get a meal at a local site.

And these aren't typical brown bag lunches. One day the cooks made pork chops and au gratin potatoes while other days' entrees included meat loaf and spaghetti. On Monday, Mills and her crew will make pork fried rice -- a dish she's never made.

"I'm all for trying something new and I'm gonna make it taste good," Mills said.

Meals include an entree, which is three ounces of meat, two fruits and milk.

Mills' involvement in the program began three years ago after she was contacted by Sherry Maxwell, who directs the Summer Food Service Program sponsored by Pilgrim's Rest Missionary Baptist Church in Lilbourn.

"It's a challenge to me, and it's a lot of hard work, but I enjoy it because we're providing a needed service. In a day when the economy is really shaky, it means much," Maxwell said.

During the summer, Maxwell and five cooks prepare 1,000 lunches daily at New Madrid County Central High School. There are eight drivers who deliver the food to the numerous locations in New Madrid County.

Maxwell's meals are served at sites located in New Madrid, Lilbourn, Tallapoosa, Portageville, Parma, Risco and Marston. Mills' coverage area includes multiple sites in Sikeston as well as sites in Matthews, Canalou, Vanduser, Morley and Haywood City. All of these sites are sponsored by Pilgrim's Rest Missionary Baptist Church.

The Susanna Wesley Family Learning Center in East Prairie sponsors food program sites in Charleston, East Prairie and Wilson City.

On Wednesday, Ann McCormack, chief of the Missouri Department of Health's Bureau of Community Food and Nutrition Assistance, will visit with the New Madrid County area.

"They're doing some really neat stuff with the program (in New Madrid County) and I want to see their food preparation and how they transport their food," McCormack said, adding she and the new program director are touring the state to get a broad view of all the program's sponsors.

Missouri has administered the federal program since 1993. Statewide there are 264 sponsors and 850 sites.

"I do think there is a need for the program, and I think it's a really great program and provides a needed service for the children who don't have access to meals in the summer time," McCormack said. "I'm thankful and grateful for the sponsors out there who provide for the children."

For more information about the program, visit the official website at www.mdhss.mo.gov/sfsp.

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