The Summer Loaves program at Christ Church in Apple Valley steps in with free lunches for kids during the Apple Valley-Eagan-Rosemount school district’s summer vacation.
The grounds of Christ Church in Apple Valley take on the atmosphere of a carnival for the Summer Loaves program on Wednesday nights this time of year.
The program, a part of the nonprofit Reaching Up Ministries, provides a week’s worth of lunches each week from June through August for 200 school-age children from about 60 families who live in the Apple Valley-Eagan-Rosemount district.
But there’s a lot more going on than food distribution.
Over here, a dozen or more children play “marshmallow” with a giant, colorful parachute, making it billow above their heads, then jumping under it when the leader shouts the magic word.
Over there, another group is playing “book bingo” with storybooks as prizes.
On the small patio out front, the nondenominational church’s youth group grills hot dogs and lays out chips, watermelon and donated cookies and pastries – free for everybody.
At the far end of the parking lot, volunteers from FaithPoint Lutheran Church in New Prague have tables full of clothes donated by consignment shops and church and community members, free for anybody who needs them.
Inside, there are classes for children and their parents, hugs aplenty and a plethora of volunteers handing out grocery sacks containing a loaf of bread, a packet of lunch meat, five slices of cheese, a big bag of chips and fruit cups or other snacks. Breads and pastries donated by Panera are wrapped and distributed, too.
Children are referred by school social workers. During the school year, they receive free or reduced price breakfast and lunch. But during the summer months, the district doesn’t provide those meals.
Amanda Lamm, 31, of Apple Valley, came to the church on a recent Wednesday night with her daughter, Jaylee, 10. She also has two boys, ages 9 and 4.
As Lamm stepped through the open door, she walked into the embrace of both Jia Brown, executive director of Reaching Up Ministries and Jennifer Dodd, program manager.
“I literally want to cry every time I come here,” Lamm said. “These people have the biggest hearts of anybody.”
Lamm said the food — she gets three bags, one for each child — helps a lot to stretch the family’s food dollar.
“When they go to school, they have breakfast and lunch at school,” she said. “But now that they’re home during the summer, all day long it’s ‘Feed me! Feed me! Feed me!’ ”
Lamm also comes for the fellowship and friendship. Jaylee gets to play with the other children and make new friends.
“Honestly, I don’t know what we did without it before and I don’t know what we’d do if it wasn’t here now.”
Brishaina Talley, 33, of Burnsville, works as a certified medical assistant at HealthPartners in Cottage Grove, but still money is tight.
As her three boys, ages 11, 10 and 4, scarfed down hot dogs and cookies, she took a much-needed break on a bench near the grill before loading her boys and the grocery bags into her car.