By Shalom Khokhar
The church is many things. And these days, Imago Dei Church in Peoria, Ill., has become a place where children from the community have access to food they otherwise might not receive.
A lack of access to meal sites, insufficient program awareness, and limited resources when schools are closed all contribute to children needlessly going hungry every summer.
During the school year, 22 million children receive free- or reduced-priced meals through the National School Lunch Program, but when school is over, that number drops to 2.7 million, according to Feeding America. To help combat child hunger, more and more communities have begun summer meals programs.
Imago Dei began its summer meals program in 2014 with the help of Matt Gross, deputy director of organizing at Bread for the World. At first, the church worked alongside more established summer feeding programs to learn how to operate, but now the church is in full swing with its own program.
“The summer feeding program has matched the heartbeat of the church,” says Christina Hite, community outreach director at Imago Dei, an interdenominational congregation. “Children cannot learn on empty stomachs.”
The church is also in partnership with the Peoria Unified School District. The school district kept school grounds open during the summer and worked with the church to supply all the food for the meals.
For a church focused on community, they are definitely impacting neighborhoods in Peoria. The need for a summer meals site in the city is great. Over 18,000 kids receive free- or reduced-price lunch. With so many hungry children, Imago Dei is doing its part to help. The church offers hot and cold lunches Monday through Friday and breakfast every Wednesday. Upwards of 40 students a week visit the summer meals site. Most of the students are in elementary school, but occasionally a few teens and toddlers show up too.
Besides offering meals, the church also provides a range of activities for students, such as learning how to grow food. Imago Dei runs a neighborhood garden filled with various fruits and vegetables. Students are free to pick and plant whatever they choose. An orchard is also currently in the works with 27 apple and pear trees.
The United States is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, but nearly 16 million children are food-insecure.
Shalom Khokhar was a summer communications intern at Bread for the World in 2015.
Photo courtesy of Imago Dei Church
Children cannot learn on empty stomachs.