Free Lunch Program Interaction Wins Praise From City
Since mid-June, as many as 30 children a day have been making noon-time appearances at Homeport’s Elim Manor apartment community for seniors. The attraction: a free lunch sandwiched between grandparent-like conversations and hugs.
Columbus Recreation and Parks Department, and its partners, will provide more than 630,000 meals this summer at 270 locations. But the Elim Manor operation is one of a kind in its inter-generational impact.
“We are excited about it,” said Julie Bishop, assistant program director for the Recreation and Parks Summer Food Program. “We are hoping it’s an idea that spreads throughout the city next year.”
The idea of enlisting Elim seniors to greet, serve lunch and monitor the children in a safe and caring environment came from Angela Fuller, community manager for Wallick Communities, the property management company for Elim Manor and homes in neighboring Elim Estates.
In previous summers, Elim Estates children received meals handed to them from the back of a truck sent by Recreation and Parks. But this year the city could not find a driver to deliver to the Southeast Columbus neighborhood five days a week.
Fuller, who remembered growing up receiving the USDA program meals, said she did not want the children to lose access to food. In some cases, the lunch – a sandwich, chocolate milk, apple or applesauce - can be their only substantive meal, she said.
So she recruited Elim Manor seniors and developed a plan rotating them through different assignments in the Elim Manor community room.
“One day they make sure the children wash and dry their hands before eating. The next they may physically hand the children the pre-made lunches. Others help children open their food, clean up spills and heat up food if requested,” Fuller said.
One senior gets to be the “Hall Monitor,” making sure there is no lingering if children need to use the Elim Manor first floor bathroom. The resident volunteers also ensure program rules are followed. No food is allowed to leave the room and adults are not allowed to eat it.
“It has gone very well and the seniors have truly been enjoying it,” Fuller said.
Mary Warren, one of nine Elim seniors who stepped forward when it appeared neighboring children, ages 1 to 18, might not otherwise receive the federally funded summertime meals, agreed with Fuller’s assessment.
“I love the children. I love them a lot,” Warren said. “This is food for my soul. I enjoy seeing their bellies fill up.”
So do the kids.
“I get to eat!” Sarah Calloway, 9, said succinctly, about her experience.
Sarah’s mother, Leslie Calloway, said the children see the half hour in the community center as an outing in what otherwise can be a slow time of year.
“The kids look forward to it. There is not a lot (otherwise) going on out here,” Calloway said.
Elim Manor residents love the interaction that begins when the children enter the rear doors of their community center.
“I have actually had one of the children tell one of the resident volunteers that she reminded them of their grandmother and asked for a hug,” Fuller said. "This was wonderful to see as this resident doesn't usually have company and now looks forward to seeing that child each day.”
Volunteer Rachel Eiland said the good feelings are contagious. One day she gave one of the area children a hug, prompting the child’s sister to request one too.
“I said, ‘sure honey,’” Eiland recalled. “It made my day.”