Free Lunch

YMCA Meals for Kids at Otumba Park in Sturgeon Bay. Leaders Leah Pluff (blue shirt) Amber Engelbert (white sweater) and Eric Natwick.

Tom Beernsten likes to share the story of a boy from Algoma who was taking part in Door County YMCA’s lunch program during spring break.

“That day they were having bagels and peanut butter. Nothing fancy,” said Beernsten, president and CEO of Door County YMCA. “The boy asked the counselor if he could take a sandwich home. The person said, ‘Of course,’ and the boy said, ‘Now I can have supper.’”

It proves to Beernsten just how valuable the YMCA lunch program is.

“These kids just don’t have what they need to eat,” he said. “The stunning thing is people look at Highway 42, our main streets and great little communities, and think, this is a wealthy place to live, but it isn’t. That’s a sad reality. Most people don’t realize that Door County is not a wealthy county. We’ve got lots of kids on free lunch program here. I think in Sturgeon Bay it’s more than 50 percent of our kids, which is astounding to some people. There is definitely a need.”

For the second summer, the Y is offering free lunches through Aug. 29 to children up to age 18. A $35,000 grant from the Walmart Foundation is helping to pay for the program.

Participants receive at least one meal per weekday and enjoy various activities. To reach more youth who may be unable to visit the Y, the Door County YMCA takes the Summer Food Program out into the community at 11 different locations. While children are eating they are encouraged to try new foods and enjoy physical activity every day.

“We have a staff person that goes along and does an activity. It’s more than dumping a box with a sandwich on a picnic table and running away. We’re actually spending time with the kids. It’s a wonderful program. I think it’s one of the nicest things we do in the county,” Beernsten said.

Last summer, the Door County YMCA served more than 10,000 meals to kids and teens throughout the summer. This summer the Door County YMCA will serve 18,000 meals here in Door County and Algoma. The Y continues its food program during the school year by providing healthy snacks in its after-school program and lunches during school breaks.

“At the Y, we are focused on keeping kids mentally and physically active while ensuring they have access to healthy food so they’re well-nourished and avoid the ‘summer slide’,” Beerntsen said. “The YMCA’s Summer Food Program will help kids stay healthy, active and energized all summer long, ensuring they start the school year ready to achieve. For years YMCA summer programing has been focused on summer learning loss nutrition, and physical activity; we are committed to closing the achievement gap.”