After discovering that most local students who qualified for food assistance at school were falling through the cracks during summer vacation, the people of St. John’s, Dover quickly stewarded their parish’s gifts into a summer food program. Here’s their story. (Time: 3:21.)
Jennifer Salt, Zufall Health Center: So I was working with Hunger Free New Jersey and we knew that there was a need in Dover for our summer feeding programs. So we decided we were going to host a summit to bring folks in Dover together to see what we could do to get some programs going.
The Rev. Rod Perez-Vega, Rector: The purpose of the summit was to help address the gap of the number of children in Dover that qualify for some kind of assistance, nutrition assistance during the school year, and on getting that assistance during the summer. At the time the number was approximately 4000 children that qualified and less than 10% of the children were having this kind of assistance available to them during the summer months.
Salt: Basically he showed up at that summer meal summit and was the one person that was like, "Yes we can make this work."
Perez-Vega: We have one of the biggest and the only front lawn in the middle of town. We have a large parking lot, we have a large parish hall. All that becomes conductive to having people come in.
Salt: And what we do is nutrition education with physical education as well as hands-on cooking activities. So we taught the children how to use knives, how to be safe using their fingers, about fruits and vegetables and eating whole grains and maybe cutting down on sugary drinks so we have a few different lessons about that.
Perez-Vega: Creating some kind of programming attached to the meals works really well to get the children going. We had the Dover Police Department, the Morris County Sheriff Department, the Dover fire department, had Boy Scouts, we had one parent who is a martial arts instructor who offered to teach some martial art classes. We had a physical education teacher from our local elementary school who provided some time to provide physical activities to the children. We had the Office of Hispanic Affairs and AmeriCorps. So we had a lot of people. Our partners at Trinity Lutheran Church also provided time helping us with the children. So it was a very much a community effort to have this happen.
Chief Anthony Smith, Dover Police Department: I've never seen anything like this program before as far as law enforcement, education, health and a faith-based network coming together, and for the same cause. And the same cause that we all want is to provide a healthy community and starting with the children, there's no better place to start.
Perez-Vega: It was a blessing to do this. And from the members of the congregation and the partnerships, which have turned into friendships, it's been a tremendous blessing. I wouldn't change that summer for the world.