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Summer Lunch Program needs volunteers in Portage for final 2 weeks

August 17, 2018

Leaders of the Summer Lunch Program in Portage are looking for volunteers to distribute food to children for the final two weeks of the program.

The Wisconsin Dells School District normally provides food and helps to distribute it at four local sites, but school staff will be unavailable due to responsibilities associated with the start of the school year, said the Rev. Dave Hankins of Portage Presbyterian Church, one of the members of the Portage Summer Food Program for Kids planning group.

The food itself is already taken care of, as many volunteers have committed to providing and packing sacked lunches, Hankins said, but the group needs two volunteers distributing food per site. Volunteers are needed on weekdays starting Monday and concluding Aug. 31.

“We have some sites with nobody signed up,” Hankins said. “We’re looking for somebody with heart and desire to serve these kids and be there for them.”

Haskins said people can sign up for a single day at a specific site or multiple days and sites, whatever works for them.

Sites in Portage include the Splash Pad in Goodyear Park (11:10-11:35 a.m.); Portage Public Library (11:15-11:45 a.m.); Lincoln Park (11:45 a.m. to 12:05 p.m.); and Sanborn Park (12:20-12:40 p.m.).

“I think it’s a really easy way to give back to your community,” said Dawn Foster, a planning group member and children’s librarian at Portage Public Library. “We’re asking for maybe 20 to 30 minutes at one of the parks – just helping to hand out lunches and maybe make some connections with the kids coming to eat.”

Between the four local sites, volunteers typically distribute 125 meals per day, Foster estimated. That’s up from about 100 a day last year. Precise numbers will be available at the conclusion of the program, she said.

“Things typically slow down in August, but I can tell you we saw really big numbers in July,” Foster said. “At the library we might hand out 38 lunches one day and then only four the next.”

She said the program has operated smoothly all summer.

The program –- in its fifth year distributing food in Portage — originated in Wisconsin Dells in coordination with the University of Wisconsin-Extension before expanding to nearby communities. It is available to children 18 and younger. The number of those receiving lunches has gone up each year, Hankins and Foster said, and the addition of Sanborn Park as a meal site has increased participation.

Volunteers from churches, civic organizations and businesses will team up at 3 p.m. Sunday at Portage VFW to prepare and pack lunches for the final two weeks of the program, Hankins said.

“It is really cool to see how many people have stepped up to help this program.”

Columbia/Dodge/Sauk County FoodWise Coordinator Caitlin Richardson said 11 percent of Columbia County children live in poverty.

“One of the reasons the Portage community started programs like the Summer Lunch Program and the Weekend Snack Pack Program was to work with families in helping to continue to see their children succeed,” Richardson wrote in an email, referring also to the food program that distributes snacks for elementary students at schools in Portage.

“Food and nourishment plays such a huge role in child development, learning ability and behaviors. We want to see Portage youth continue to grow and be successful.”

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