It all, more or less, began with a simple question posed on Facebook by a concerned Van Alstyne resident: Are there any hungry children in Van Alstyne?
The answer, unfortunately, is yes.
Saddened by the question and spurred on by the answer, a group of 10 or so residents met in January to discuss the problem. They met at the house of Donna Spies, the woman who asked the question originally, and talked about what they could do because they had to do something.
And do something they did.
From the genesis of that one simple question and that group of concerned citizens Kids Eat Free was born. The Kids Eat Free program is a non-profit, 501(c)3 organization formed to combat childhood hunger in and around the Van Alstyne area. As part of its summer lunch program, the group will provide a meal to every child who needs one. The facts are simple: it is estimated that 30 to 40 percent of Van Alstyne school children (in elementary, middle and high schools) qualify for a free or reduced-cost lunch. What happens to these kids in the summer? Many of them surely go hungry, a sad fact of life.
Kids Eat Free is an innovative and much-needed program based in faith and good intentions. Relying solely on donations and volunteers, the group operates under the umbrella of the Van Alstyne Ministerial Alliance and will serve lunches out of the First United Methodist Church’s Sanford Acitivites Center at 303 S. Preston St.
The way the program works is based on one simple motto: any deserving child will get a free lunch with no questions asked. Between the hours of 11:30 a.m. and noon children and young adults can show up at the church, sign their name and pick up a free lunch. That’s it, there are no forms to fill out and nothing to show. Three cold meals and two hot meals will be served Monday through Friday beginning June 10 and running through August 23.
The summer lunch program is just one of the ways Kids Eat Free directors and volunteers are combating child hunger in Van Alstyne. The group’s first project was to take on weekend hunger among children by collecting gift cards to a local fast food restaurant and distributing them to administrators at the various VAISD campuses to give to needy children. Lunch debt is also an issue that the group is meeting head-on. Students who have lunch debt at the end of the year — generally students who are on some kind of support — are unable to get their report cards, register for school or even graduate until that balance is resolved. Kids Eat Free is working with schools and cafeteria staff to take care of these accounts.
Patricia Kelly, co-chair of the Kids Eat Free board of directors, is a former school teacher who said this charity really hit home.
“There are [charitable] needs everywhere. This one is at our backdoor,” she said. “We’re walking on faith that we saw this need and have people who are helping to fill the need.”
When Kelly uses the term “walking on faith” she isn’t kidding. Kelly said she was stunned just days before when a woman walked up to her, handed over a volunteer application form and said she would take care of all the lunch debt at Van Alstyne High School.
“Our community so far has just responded tremendously,” Kelly said, describing the community’s reaction as humbling. “We’re blessed to live in a community that responds so quickly when there are those in need.”
Taking on a problem this big and important requires two things of any group: money and volunteers. Volunteers are needed to help with a variety of things, including putting together the lunches for kids five days a week, and money is needed because…well, there isn’t much that is free and the cost to feed each child amounts to roughly $2.25 per day. That’s a lot of greenbacks to feed a community full of needy children five days a week for nearly three months.
But the good news is that you can help. To volunteer your time contact Kids Eat Free Chair Andrea Brandhorst at 903-814-3334. Volunteers are always needed and appreciated. There are different sponsorship levels for those wishing to contribute money stemming from the corporate sponsorships to individual contributions.