Seven-year-old Angel Sandoval nibbled on a mini corn dog.
Lesly Mendez, 13, smiled as she looked inside her new backpack.
And nearby, volunteer Ray Bohanan spooned pineapple onto a Styrofoam plate.
Wednesday was the last day of the 2018 Summer Lunch Program and the fellowship hall of The Presbyterian Church in Fremont was pretty quiet.
Since it began six years ago, the annual program has provided thousands of meals along with educational opportunities for children and youth.
An average of 200 youth, parents and staff ate each weekday since the program started in May, said Capt. Stephen Hansen of the Salvation Army in Fremont.
Odetta Wacker, backpack coordinator at the church, said 317 backpacks were given away this year. Children and youth had to attend a lunch or a program for a total of 10 days to get a backpack.
“I love giving these backpacks away,” Wacker said. “The kids are so grateful and excited and the parents have been grateful. It’s really a community project.”
Community members have donated money, supplies or time for the backpacks. Eastern Nebraska Community Office of Retardation and Developmental Disabilities (ENCOR) residents helped pack 50 backpacks, she said.
Hansen also appreciates the community support.
“We’ve had a lot of community volunteers come in and help serve,” he said. “We have a great partnership with ENCOR. They have people here helping clean tables and doing different things to help the lunch program run smoothly.”
Banks have sent over employees to help as well.
“It really is a great community effort,” Hansen said. “That’s one of the best things we love about it. It’s such a collaboration with all the different churches, the schools and Head Start — getting hungry kids fed is just a small part of it, but an important part of it as well.”
Meals included pizza, hot dogs, corn dogs, pizzawiches, lasagna, chicken nuggets and sometimes even breakfast fare.
“We had french toast and sausage the other day,” he said.
Fruit, vegetables and milk always were served, too.
All lunches meet the United State Department of Agriculture’s nutritional guidelines.
The Salvation Army provides the food, which generally costs between $25,000 and $35,000 per summer, including utensils, napkins and plates, Hansen said.
Food funds mostly come from the Salvation Army budget.
“We do get reimbursement from the State for just the kids who are served so the rest of it has to come out of the Salvation Army budget,” he said.
Besides food, the SLP offered a host of age-appropriate programs.
Dodge County Head Start provided the Kindergarten JumpStart program for preschool age children.
Youngsters in grades kindergarten through fourth took part in the Fremont Public Schools 21st Century Community Learning Centers STEAM program. STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math.
Seven different churches led chapel services for children in this age range for a half hour Mondays-Wednesdays.
The Hope Center had a summer program for youth in fifth through 12th grade, which offered youth development classes, Bible studies and field trips.
In addition, the Summer Lunch Program offered a weekend food tote program throughout the summer and Back to School Backpack program.
The Rev. Jon Ashley is the SLP coordinating team moderator.
“The Summer Lunch Program is an investment in the children and youth of our community in that it helps them to more fully realize their potential,” he said in a previous Tribune article. “It helps to keep them safe and active throughout the summer, providing nutritious meals and active learning opportunities. This means they return to the school in the fall better prepared and with an improved sense of connection to our community.
“We are all better off when we love our neighbors.”