It is hard for me to believe that today I am already writing a summary of our 4th year of feeding children during the summer. I can’t believe the children are back in school already and the fair is just days away!
It takes many, many hands to make the summer lunch program work. I am happy to say that each of the hands is a volunteer. Not a single person gets paid monetarily. Each volunteer gave of their time and with gas prices above $5 a gallon this summer, they also gave financially to help us help others. It truly is a team effort! Our 2022 team came from Geauga, Lake and Portage County. Each one came with a giving heart.
Getting the word out to families
This year I really concentrated on getting the word out to more families. In addition to contacting Berkshire, Cardinal and West Geauga Schools, I sent the information to Agape, St. Mary’s, St. Helens, Metzenbaum, Head Start, Geauga Home School group and Jobs and Family Services. I cannot tell you if they all shared the information with families, but it was not for lack of me giving them the information.
You may not realize that Claridon Township is covered by two different school districts. Most of Claridon is the Berkshire School District and the portion along Aquilla Road is Chardon School District. If our organization is Claridon Community Helps, I felt we needed to cover ALL of Claridon.
After talking to various employees of the Chardon School District, the school sent out a notice to families. This brings me to the old saying, you better watch what you wish for. This brought us 15 new families to the program from the Chardon School District and not a single one was from Claridon.
We believe in feeding children no matter where they live, but we only have so many volunteers whom are willing to deliver meals. First, I spoke with Mariann from Morning Star Church. She recommended I contact Jenny from Chardon Christian Fellowship. Jenny talked with members of the church and found volunteers who would pick up the lunches at Claridon Congregational Church and take them back to Chardon Christian Fellowship for families to pick up. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I just love how all the different organizations, churches and families all work together!
This past May, Cardinal Schools were going through administration changes. Through all of the changes, I don’t feel that the word was spread like it has been in the past about our lunch program as we didn’t really have new families from that area. Next year I know will be a much better year and we will reach more families.
We also struggle with helping families in the Newbury area. Before COVID came into play and all children received free lunches at school, Newbury was the 3rd highest school in the county in which children received free or reduced lunches. I am not sure how to better reach the families besides sending a notice home through the school. If you have ideas, suggestions or contacts, please share with me.
Lunches on Monday, Wednesday and Friday
The first few lunch deliveries started off bumpy. I am not going to sugarcoat it; it was very frustrating for us and the recipients. Getting back into the routine did not come easy for us and lunches were delivered late the first few days. Just like riding a bike though, it came back to us and we were good to go after that.
Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday we would make hot lunches. On Monday and Wednesday we would make brown bag lunches for Tuesday and Thursday. Hot lunches were made that day in the kitchen at Claridon Congregational Church. We had cheeseburgers, chicken legs, taco salad, buffalo chicken mac-n-cheese (a favorite among the kids), pancakes and sausage, just to name a few of our meals. Each of those meals were accompanied by a homemade cookie that came out of the oven sometimes an hour before we packed lunch and sometimes as we were packing lunches. Yes, the kids ate better then myself on most days! To accompany their meal, they received fresh milk from Rowdy Cow Creamery (located in Hastings Dairy) in Claridon.
Children received more than just lunch
In addition to lunch, families received a bag of food on one occasion. A local food pantry had too much and we were the recipients. Some of the items we used in our meals, other parts of it that we could not use we sent home to families.
A Kid at Art for the Heart provided art projects for each of the children. The art projects were broken down into age-appropriate categories. Art supplies were bagged up and shared with the children.
Women United of United Way of Geauga County provided books for all the children. These were multiple books bagged up for each child. The best response was when one child grabbed his book and said “Mom, I’ll be in my room reading!”
Operation Home Front in conjunction with Chardon VFW Post 6519 supplied “What Is It Wednesday?” surprise toy items. Toys were put into a brown paper bag and children were surprised with what would be inside. Maybe something good or maybe something silly.
United Way of Geauga County held their Day of Action in June. This day provided each of our families with hygiene products.
The Sew Sew Sweet 4h Club provided their time in helping prepare lunches. They also sewed teddy bears for the 1- and 2-year-old children.
Geauga County Library – Chardon Branch provided crafty activities for the younger children. They were cute little caterpillars they could make that would turn into butterflies.
The food pantry had very, very past the best by date flour they were disposing of. I said we would take it. We measured out the flour, purchased salt and cream of tarter and measured those out and send it home with the recipe for kids to make their very own playdough.
Geauga Park District provided scavenger hunts for the children to do in their own back yard or at a Geauga County Park.
Chardon VFW Post 6519 and Operation Home Front worked together with the local Dollar Tree stores where customers made a donation for school supplies for local children. We divided up the items we had and each family received a few of the items on the back-to-school list.
On the last Friday children received lunches, Joya, the children’s librarian at Chardon Library delivered to us 100 science experiment boxes. They had received these dinosaur experiment boxes from COSI Science Center. All children ages 3 through 11 were the recipients that day.
In addition, Claridon Community Helps kept on helping neighbors during the summer
Claridon Community Helps began in 2009. Our mission statement has always been “Neighbors Helping Neighbors”, even before the United Way copied us for their signs. But that is okay it is a compliment!
Claridon Community Helps often times works with other agencies within the county filling in financial gaps. What I mean by that is an agency may provide part of the cost/service leaving the client to provide the rest. Not all clients are able to do so and this is where we step in.
Here is what Claridon Community Helps did this summer in addition to running the summer lunch program:
We provided an over the bed table to a client who had surgery and would be on bed rest for a while.
Gas was $5 a gallon a burden for most of us. For this family, gas was needed to travel to and from Cleveland Hospital while their child was there. Gas cards were given to the family, one less thing they needed to worry about.
It is said that many are just one paycheck away from being homeless. For this family, the husband was a victim of identity theft. They were tirelessly working with Social Security to get it worked out. But it had now been 3 months since he had received his income and had no means to make their house payment. We were able to provide half of the payment.
Another family, the main income provider of the family was injured. Their money had run out, short term disability had not arrived yet and eviction notice would be arriving within the next week. We were able to provide the house payment for that month. I am happy to report the disability money did arrive for them to pay other bills and he has returned to work.
We had a few families who were in need of food. Two asked us if we could go to the food pantry for them as they did not have transportation. A few others had used the food pantry, but still did not have enough food. We filled in this gap.
Let’s talk money
In 2020, we were blessed with an abundance of donations for the summer lunch program. Families opened their wallets and Chardon Rotary raised funds for the program.
In 2021, our expenses for lunches were $5,009 more then the income we received in 2021. But we had a carry over from 2020 of $18,905.
Heading into this year, we had $13,896 to start the lunch program. We received $7,038 in donations for the lunch program this year. The total amount we had then to use for lunches was $20,934. Our total expenses for the lunch program were $23,553. The lunch program was $2,619 in the red.
I knew we were close to running out of money. I also know each of us can only do so many things at once. With that said, the last few weeks of lunches I used my own money. I had faith that after the lunch program was over and we shared the word of what we accomplished that we would receive the donations.
Last week when I went to the post office there was an envelope from 100+ Women Who Care of East Geauga. In it was a donation of $2,250 for the summer lunch program. I had forgotten that earlier this summer, I was contacted with the news that our summer lunch program was the recipient of their generosity. I am not going to lie, it brought happy tears to my eyes. The lunch program is now only $369 in the red.
Now That’s What I’m Talking About! – Summer Lunch, Claridon Community Helps program has come to a close and we now begin preparing for summer of 2023. We need to raise money for lunches in 2023. Claridon Community Helps also needs to raise funds so that we can continue to help our neighbors as we have also depleted those funds.
A few fundraisers that we are in the process of organizing is a Scavenger Hunt followed by a Tail Gate style dinner. Most everyone likes a fresh from the oven homemade apple pie and we are working on this for Thanksgiving time. We are also putting together a snow activity day for families during the cold gray months of winter. We will keep you posted as we work out the details.
Thank you for taking the time to read through the 2022 summary. Thank for supporting us. And thank you for helping us fill a child’s belly this past summer!