For the last few weeks the Homer United Methodist Church has taken the lead on an effort distributing food to teens in need. Volunteers have been working with other organizations and community members to have free food on hand to pass out each Friday.
The church usually hosts a hot meal on Thursdays for any interested high schoolers. But that’s only during the school year. So Pastor Lisa Talbott said she wanted to figure out a way to offer another option for kids who may not have a consistent source of food all year round. That led to phone calls to other teen organizations, churches and parents.
“And it culminated in this idea that we really need a community meeting to figure out what we can do to stand in the gap that exists during the summertime,” she said.
Talbott said she is a former high school teacher and has been in Homer for only a couple months. But she is enthusiastic about the Free Food Fridays project.
“We contacted Rob Way whose ministry is the Midtown Café and got permission to set up outside his place because we know he is a place where teenagers feel comfortable going. Because they’re not always going to feel comfortable going to a church,” she said.
Talbott called the food a “Band-Aid” but it’s what they can offer for now. She said everything is anonymous. They don’t make the kids tell their names or give out the details of their situation. Talbott said the point is to show the teens there is some support available and now it’s just a matter of getting more community buy-in.
“Teenagers can be invisible, even when they’re not homeless. And homeless teenagers that do not want to be found are very, very good at being invisible. So it’s very important for our church to continue working with community organizations like The Center… The Rec Room. The kids go there, they love The Rec Room. So places where the adults actually know the kids, and advocate for them and speak on their behalf,” she said.
Sherry Stead has been instrumental in bringing this project together.
“I like kids. Basically it comes down to that. And not every child has a good home environment or has food on the table,” she said.
Every bag has a sticker that reads “This lunch is given to you by your many friends in Homer. We love you and wish you well.”
“One boy when he read this he was like ‘oh my gosh, someone just made this lunch for me and my friends,” Stead said.
Community members have been donating food and money to the project. Talbott said it costs $120 to put together 30 lunches each week. Now that the school year has officially started, Talbott said she has been in discussions with the high school about possible ways to collaborate.
“Working with the school district, kids during the school year can qualify for free lunch or free breakfast. But there’s no food on weekends, over the holidays or during the summer. So one of the things we’re suggesting is maybe a backpack program where kids can pick up a backpack on Friday afternoons that’s full of enough food to get them through the weekend,” she said.
This is the last week for the Free Food Friday. Now Talbott said it’s a matter of expanding out this pilot program into a sustained effort.
“In the direst of circumstances when maybe they feel like their own family doesn’t love them anymore that our community still loves them, and is still going to work to take care of them. They’re all our kids,” she said.