Summer Lunch Program Feeds Many

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The First Baptist Church of Litchfield is preparing to wind down another successful year of their summer lunch program. The yearly outreach program starts on the first Monday of June and ends the day before school resumes, from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., each weekday.  

First Baptist’s summer lunch program began in 2016, as a way to help feed the district’s students during the summer months when school meals aren’t readily available to them. In that time the summer lunch program has expanded to feed other members of the community, including the elderly and homeless. While the program began as a dine-in lunch, it has been operating as a drive-thru the last two years in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Not only did the program’s mode of operation change during the ongoing pandemic, the number of people they are feeding greatly increased as well. Angie Lienmann, head of program and kitchen manager at Litchfield First Baptist Church, estimates that they are currently serving between 180 to 200 lunches per day and usually distribute 150 lunches within the first 15 minutes of the program’s start time.

“One of the really great things about the program is that a lot of the kids who received lunches when we started have come back to volunteer their time to help distribute meals. It’s nice to have them as runners because we have a lot of lunches go out from this kitchen.” said Lienmann, with a smile. “Several people come through the lunch line and request extra meals to take to neighborhood children whose parents are working throughout the day and home bound individuals.”  

There are many hands that help keep the program going, but the day-to-day volunteers include Angie and Hank Lienmann, Brenda White, Andi Harston, Barb Butts, and Rilynne and Shelbea Knockman. The summer lunch crew meets at the church kitchen at 9 a.m., to start cooking the day’s meal. The program tries to stick to hot meals or soup and sandwiches that are geared towards a wide array of palates. Each day features a different meal, favorites include spaghetti, grilled cheese sandwiches and walking tacos. The meals are posted daily on the Litchfield community group on Facebook and paper menus are available at the church during lunch distribution.

“The Summer Lunch Program takes a lot of time and energy but it is incredibly rewarding,” stated Lienmann. “We all love the people and the children that come through the lunch line. Sometimes we’ll hand out fliers about church programs and ask our regulars if there is anything that we could pray about for them, but we try not to be pushy. They don’t have to be a part of our, or any, church to use the program. We just want people to know that this is a safe  place where they can come for a hot meal and a kind word. Litchfield has a really big need - that is something  we didn’t fully realize before we started this program.”

While successful in terms of outreach the program is in need of funding and volunteers. The First Baptist Church of Litchfield is preparing to hold a breakfast fundraiser for the summer lunch program on Saturday, Aug. 28. They will offer to-go breakfasts from 8 to 11 a.m., that will be distributed in a drive-thru manner at the church’s parking lot on Harrison Street. The menu includes pancakes, biscuits and gravy, bacon and sausage.

Tickets for the breakfast fundraiser must be purchased in advance. Prices are set at $10 for adults and $8 for children ten and under. Those interested in purchasing a ticket are encouraged to stop by the church office Monday through Thursday, from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., or call the church at 217-324-4232.

In addition to daily lunches, the summer program partners with the St. Clare Food Pantry to hand out food baskets once a month. They plan to distribute food baskets on Tuesday, Aug. 10, Tuesday, Sept. 21, and Tuesday, Oct. 19. They also continue a decades long tradition, started by Union Avenue Christian Church, of partnering with area churches to serve a Breaking Bread meal to the community on Monday evenings.

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