Kids home for dinner

An AmeriCorps volunteer with Feeding Laramie Valley prepares for last summer’s Kids Out to Lunch meal program. Feeding Laramie Valley is now offering free weekend meals through a new program called Kids Home for Dinner.

Feeding Laramie Valley’s summer lunch program may have ended, but Laramie children can still get free homemade meals this fall through a new program called Kids Home for Dinner.

From 3-6 p.m. Fridays through Dec. 22, any youth 18 or younger can pick up a free to-go meal at Feeding Laramie Valley’s LaBonte Park headquarters, 968 N. Ninth St. Meals, which are designed to be reheated at home, generally contain enough food for two servings and also include an activity. Adults can get a meal for a suggested donation of $1.50.

Feeding Laramie Valley founder Gayle Woodsum said that after extending the popular Kids Out to Lunch summer program and seeing steady participation, the organization wanted to find a way to continue providing meals this fall.

“It just seemed arbitrary to stop, because we know the impact of COVID-19 on the economy, as well as everybody’s mental and physical health, continues to be a really big deal,” she said.

Woodsum said about 150 children a day participated in Kids Out to Lunch this summer, which offered free weekday meals from early June through the start of the school year. Another 50 children, on average, picked up additional meals for the weekends.

Much of the funding for the summer program comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which doesn’t cover meals during the school year because children from qualifying income groups are able to obtain free breakfast and lunch at their schools.

This fall, however, that federal funding will remain intact through December. Coupled with additional grants, the fall meal program became viable, Woodsum said.

“We really wanted to complement what kids are getting in schools and provide (meals) on the weekends,” she said.

Janell Ross serves as the head cook, bringing 20 years of experience as a professional chef to the program. The menu emphasizes homemade items with a focus on fresh, healthy ingredients.

“We’ve always been proud of the food that we do, and all the attention and love that goes into it, but having this professional chef puts us over the top,” Woodsum said.

The Kids Home for Dinner pick-up date and time corresponds with a pick-up time for Feeding Laramie Valley’s Food Shares Program, which distributes free vegetables and fruits to anyone who signs up. Woodsum said participation in the shares program has quadrupled since last spring and continues to grow. She’s hoping more families will take advantage of the free meals as well.

“Every week we get more and more people, and a lot of them are connected to families,” she said. “People who have kids and are coming to get shares can just go around the back and pick up the meals to take with them.”

To offset the need for additional volunteers, the Foster Grandparents of the Wyoming Rockies are pitching in. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, participants aren’t allowed to do their usual volunteer work in local public schools. Instead, they’ve stepped in to help prepare food, design activities and pass out meals.

“We love that intergenerational connection,” Woodsum said. “And it’s keeping the kids connected. The kids have been missing the foster grandparents in the schools.”

Woodsum said Kids Home for Dinner fits with Feeding Laramie Valley’s mission to expand access to healthy food and create sustainable food systems.

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