By Roz Weis,
Kids Lunch Club is the stamp of a community-powered organization.
The program, which started in Decorah in summer 2016, provides free lunch for any child every weekday during the summer months.
Local volunteers, faith communities and the City of Decorah have all rallied with the Decorah Community School District to provide the grab-n-go, fresh lunch options.
Shana Putnam Dibble of Decorah currently oversees the program.
It has been estimated that up to 150 youngsters, just in Decorah, go without access to what would pass for lunch during the summer months.
Volunteers gather at Congregational United Church of Christ in Decorah each week to pack up the lunches, based off of a rotating menu. The meal options are packed into tubs and distributed at three area locations: John Cline School, Freeport Park and at the Freeport Mobile Home Community area near the intersection of Dogwood and Old Stage Road. The third meal distribution site was recently added.
Dibble said those families not able to pick up lunches during the day can come to the Decorah UCC (Congregational United Church of Christ) on Broadway Street on Wednesday evenings from 6-6:30 p.m. to grab lunches.
The Kids Lunch Club partners with the backpack program offered at Decorah UCC.
“On Wednesday evenings (at the church) and on Fridays (at the three distribution sites) we provide bags that families can take home to have food over the weekend,” she said.
Dibble estimates that Kids Lunch Club has crossed the 2,500 mark for lunches served so far this summer, and there have been thousands of breakfast items distributed as well.
More than lunches
It’s not all about the lunches at Kids Lunch Club.
Organizers have an ongoing goal of bringing children and families together and building community during the summer months when children/youth are away from the structure of school. Special events/projects are offered at least once each week during the meal distributions. Recently, children and families were invited to pick up a lunch and enjoy designing their own patriot art projects at the John Cline Distribution Site. Another Kids Lunch Club event was story-time with a book giveaway sponsored by Oneota Literary Foundation. This special event is planned three times during the summer with a guest reader and youngsters have an opportunity to select a new book. Other recent programs have included a bike safety program and helmet giveaway, ice cream party, and much more.
Dibble reminded that volunteers are always needed to help with the project.
“Our program is 100 percent community involvement,” she stated. “And our goal is to expand through family and community engagement.”
One group of young people held a bake sale, and they donated $1,000 to Kids Lunch Club.
The organization is entirely powered by community volunteers who help pack lunches, twice a week, and serve on a daily basis. Lunch makers must be 16 years old to volunteer by themselves. Lunch makers younger than age 16 need to have a supervising adult present for packaging the meals. Dibble added that those volunteers under age 16 must be able to focus their attention for a minimum of 30 minutes and be able to follow simple directions.
Local organizations helping recently include the Oneota Valley literacy Foundation, Decorah’s Sugar Bowl, Rotary Club, 100+ Women Who Care, Upper Explorerland Regional Planning Commission, Driftless Yoga, RSVP (Retired Senior Volunteer Program) and more.
To sign up for making or serving lunches, to make a donation to Support Kids Lunch Club and to learn more about this ongoing summer program, e-mail Dibble directly at email@example.com. Follow “decorahkidslunchclub” on Facebook for program updates and photos.