United Way helped kids eat during the summer months


DIXON – Every year from August to May kids and teenagers in school eat lunch at school.

But what happens when the school’s doors are closed from late May to the middle of August and those prepared meals are not available?

Some have parents or brothers and sisters at home to take away the problem of food insecurity during the summer. However, some do not.

United Way Lee County has offered meals during the summer through its Summer Eats program for quite some time. This year Summer Eats served 10,845 meals to 3,165 individuals over 11 weeks (May 31-Aug. 9) in the Lee County.

“We start the Summer Eats program for 11 weeks basically as soon as school is out of session,” United Way Executive Director Ashley Richter said. “We help provide meals for teens and kids for free during the time school is out and there might be opportunity for food insecurity or not having meals at home while they’re not in school. We want to make sure kids have meals over the summer.

“We served about 1,000 more meals this year than we did last year. We saw a higher need in the county.”

Families were able to get three meals for the week every Wednesday for every kid or teen in their home. 

If someone older than school age needed meals, they would be served as well without questioning, paperwork, or an issue.

The United Way meals were served at 12 different locations including Pankhurst Memorial Library in Amboy, Open Sesame (old Lincoln School) in Dixon, Wooden Wonderland in Dixon, Splash Pad at Vaile Park in Dixon, Dixon High School, Jefferson School in Dixon, Washington school in Dixon, Paw Paw Boys and Girls Club, Paw Paw Public Library, Ashton Public Library, Dixon Public Library, and Franklin Grove Public Library.

“It has been so great for us to be able to partner with the local libraries. They were added about a year or two ago, so they’re newer locations for us,” Richter said. “The libraries have been great because we’re able to serve outside of Dixon. We want to make sure we have a presence in other towns in Lee County including Amboy, Ashton, Franklin Grove, and others.

“What’s also nice about the libraries is people can pick up the meals until they’re no longer available. They’re not limited to just 12-12:30 p.m., which is the pickup time for our other locations. The libraries will serve the meals as long as there are meals until they close for the day.”

Richter, who lives in Milledgeville but is originally from Erie, worked at the Sterling-Rock Falls YMCA for eight years as the development and marketing director where she helped with the YMCA and United Way partnership.

When the executive director position for United Way became available. She filled out the application with excitement to be involved in an organization that does so much for communities in Lee County.

Richter assumed the role four months ago.

“This program does take a lot to put on since you have 11 weeks getting deliveries of food. You’re offloading pallets of food,” Richter said. “We had volunteers come on Tuesday and they would help open boxes and prepare food to be able to pack the lunches. On Wednesday mornings, we would have volunteers pack the lunches. Another group of volunteers would then pick up the lunches and take them to all of our sites. 

“There were a lot of people involved doing different jobs and helping out in any way they could. For me being new, it was awesome to see how the program ran and how many people came together to make it happen. It was nice to see how many people were excited to help. Our volunteer positions were always full and filled quickly when we asked the community to help with the program.”

The meals offered by United Way included shelf-stable food such as proteins like chicken noodle soup, ravioli, spaghetti rings and Spagehtti-Os, fruit cups, breakfast items including cereal, granola bars, and oatmeal, and a drink such as a juice box or a Gatorade.