Bellaire Youth Initiative launches summer lunch program

Linda Gallagher, Contributing Writer

Photo by Linda Gallagher

Thanks to the efforts of a new Bellaire area resident, Laura Foerster (at right), and members of the Bellaire Youth Initiative, including Deb Cannella (left), school-aged children in Bellaire can now enjoy a free lunch three days a week throughout the summer.


BELLAIRE – Making sure that kids get something to eat for lunch every day during summer break, and breakfast at some schools, is a practice that school districts in Mancelona, Elk Rapids, and Central Lake have done for several years.

However, with the exception of a program tried several years ago – that was not successful – Bellaire has not been able to offer students either free lunches or breakfasts during the summer months. 

Until now. 

After moving north from southern Illinois two years ago, Laura Foerster was dismayed to learn that fact. Following the start of a very successful summer meal program in Highland, Illinois several years ago, the new Bellaire area resident – who is also a registered nurse with Juris Doctor (law) degree – knew how important having a good lunch is to a young and growing mind.

"I had been stunned to learn the effects of malnutrition on a child's brain," Foerster said earlier this week. "It's unbelievable that we have kids going hungry, for any length of time, in this country.”

After speaking to Pastor David Ramage of Bellaire's Church Of The Hills, Foerster contacted the Bellaire Youth Initiative. The members of the board readily agreed to contribute $2,400 for a free summer lunch program in Bellaire, where 50 percent of those attending school qualified for free or reduced price meals in 2017.

In 2018, Foerster and members of BYI approached former Bellaire Superintendent James Emery about preparing and serving free summer lunches to any interested student through Chartwells, the private food service company used by Bellaire Public Schools.

"He didn't think a program like that would be successful and didn't think it would be a good idea," said Foerster. "We were very disappointed."

Not one to give up easily, Foerster, along with Deb Cannella – a member of BYI who is assisting with the new summer food program – approached Mancelona Public Schools this year.

The two women got an entirely different reception. 

"Mancelona thought it was a great idea to prepare catered bag lunches for the kids of Bellaire, and may be willing to do more down the road," said Foerster, smiling.

The summer program began on Monday, June 17 in Bellaire's Richardi Park, with fresh turkey sandwiches, a piece of fresh fruit, and a fruit juice drink free for the asking to any school-aged child. 

Read the full story in our regular edition of The Review. To subscribe to the paper for just $34 a year, which includes access to our full online e-edition, please go to the subscription page on this website at:



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