By ELIOT SILL
Boxes of free food sat stacked in the front hallway at Marion Elementary School on Friday, presumably to be returned to Wichita and distributed to those who need it. Maybe they’ll be diverted to the local food bank in Marion.
They didn’t wind up in the bellies of kids craving free lunches this summer. At least, not at the levels organizers of a free summer lunch program had hoped.
“I’m not happy with the amount people we got,” Gene Winkler said. “I think we should’ve had more kids than this attending.”
Winkler teamed with the Wichita Food Bank and city officials to organize the program and recruit volunteers to staff it.
Despite lofty goals of reaching as many as 180 kids a day, which were shown within the first week to be unrealistic, Winkler said the program ended up serving 10.9 kids per day, on average.
Winkler said it was a benefit for those that did take advantage.
Receiving a greater response was the free snack offered at the Sports and Aquatic Center. That averaged 25 patrons per day. Winkler said those snacks were “just a couple of things,” like a juice box and baggie of pretzels.
“The food is decent,” Destiny Boudreaux, 14, said. “It’s really all snack food though.”
The meals contained protein in various forms — chicken salad, beef sticks, Cheez-Its — but fruits, cheese, peanut butter, crackers, milk, and juice, all also were included.
Destiny and her younger twin brothers, Tyler and Colton, ate there “most every day,” Colton said.
Max Hayen and Jose Almaguer of Marion Christian Church were volunteers Friday for the final day of the program. The Christian Church was the 10th community group to staff the event for a week.
Some days, volunteers would be the only ones there.
“We had three days where nobody showed up,” Winkler said. He said that was around July Fourth. Rain limited attendance on other days. Several days had just two or three in attendance. Some had 15 to 20.
Mondays were popular, as free pool passes were handed out those days, redeemable any day that week. The Boudreauxs said they frequently took advantage of the pool pass.
While it benefited those it served, the program has left organizers asking questions as to why it wasn’t more popular and what could be done to improve it.
“It might have helped to change locations,” Winkler said. “We could go into the little park west of the school and have it there. Maybe kids just don’t want to come back to school during the summer time.”
The program was made available to all children 18 and younger, with the only stipulation being that lunches must be ate at the school.
Winkler said he wasn’t sure if the program would continue next summer.
“We’ll just have to see what works out,” he said. “And if we do it next year, what do we do to make it more available.”