Inaugural food program met with success; plans expanded for 2020 effort

Dave Lein, Editor

BELLAIRE – Temperatures outside may have dropped off significantly, but enthusiasm is already heating up for the second season of Bellaire’s successful Summer Meals Program.

The free program, which began this past June, was launched through the efforts of several advocates and currently operates under the auspices of the Bellaire Youth Initiative (BYI).

While students are currently settled into the new school year, Summer Meal Program organizers have been busy planning for 2020 effort.

“Last summer was very successful,” said coordinator Laura Foerster. “We served about 30 healthy meals a day, three days a week for six weeks that began in June. That translated to about 780 meals served throughout the summer at three locations: Richardi Park, the preschool and village apartments.”

While the inaugural program – run by volunteers – was funded through BYI and other supporters including a group from the Church in the Hills, Foerster and BYI board member Dee Lynch said they received a “wonderful surprise” regarding plans for next summer.

“The surprise was that the Jenny and Todd Stone family offered to underwrite the whole program,” Lynch said. “That was a wonderful surprise and a relief. This is a crucial program, and it isn’t cheap. If it wasn’t for the Stone family, we would still figure a way to do it. But now we can use those funds for other BYI programs for our local youth and children.”

Running the program through Bellaire Public Schools – where 50 percent of those attending school qualified for free or reduced price meals in 2017 – wasn’t possible last summer so organizers partnered with a neighboring district.

Foerster, along with Deb Cannella – a member of BYI who assisted with the new summer food program – approached Mancelona Public Schools.

"Mancelona thought it was a great idea to prepare catered bag lunches for the kids of Bellaire,” Foerster said, through Chartwells, the private food service company used by Bellaire and Mancelona school districts.

“And all of the lunches are health meals that include fruit, protein, healthy starches/vegetables, and often include fresh meat such as turkey – all of which meet USDA standards,” she said.

With that in mind, partnering with the USDA through Chartwells to help offset the cost of providing the meals is just one improvement planned for the summer 2020 program.

“We also plan to expand it to five days a week, for eight weeks, and secure additional sites where the meals can be provided,” Foerster explained.

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