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Summer Lunch Program Feeds Future With More Than Food

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ALTOONA, Iowa –More than 100 kids from Eastern Polk County come to a summer lunch program each day, but the Altoona Kids Cafe serves up much more than a meal.

It's hard to beat chicken quesadillas, veggies and fruit. 4th Grade Student Ellis Gibbons said, "I absolutely love it."

But, it isn't just the food the kids love. ChaCha Khan,10, said, "I learn new stuff, and I play around with friends."

Shandrel Thompson, a 4th Grade Student from Four Mile Elementary, said, "We do fun activities every single day, and sometimes people come to read to us and do more fun activities."

The Altoona Kids Café is a summer food service program providing healthy lunches to Eastern Polk County students.  Co-Executive Director Kerrin Martinson said, "We both felt the need to do more and give back to our community and were kind of examining the holes in our community."

Martinson, along with Maggie Crabb, started the Kids Cafe after volunteering at their kids' school. Crabb said, “There had been a program in the past, and we modeled similar to what they had done, but with the closing of Central Place at SEP schools in 2013, that program went away."

Now in its third year, 120 students spend two hours a day at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Altoona. “We have no paid staff, everyone is a volunteer. Over the course of three years now, we've had about 300 people within the community that have helped out and volunteered," said Crabb.

Local Dentist Chad Johnson recently stopped by to teach kids about brushing. "We also want to brush the sides and the outside and then lastly we brush the insides," he instructed.

The kids have also done Zumba, yoga, and science experiments. "What we do here is basically do lots of fun stuff," said Devon Baetsle, a 4th Grade Student at Willowbrook Elementary.

Each Friday, a celebrity chef helps the teen group make crockpot meals. Destinee Barbee said, "They show us what to make and stuff and then we get to take it home and cook it for our families.”

Her sister Aaliyah Barbee added, “Last week we made this chicken barbecue and these people came out from Fireside and taught us how to make it."

The program lasts for six weeks in the summer, but it's a year-round commitment the co-executive directors are clearly passionate about.

"This is my way to give back, and I think that's extremely important,” said Martinson.

Crabb added, “We saw the kids that were coming in and needed those extra things and didn't have them, and there was no place to get them, and we knew it existed and you can't watch the news today without knowing one if 5 kids in Polk County is hungry, and we knew we could do it. We felt the call, and we wanted to give back."

They’re giving back in a way that's helping feed the future with more than just food.

Private donations pay for the Altoona Kids Cafe. Money from the USDA Summer Food Service program reimburses it for the cost of the food. You can volunteer or donate to the program on the Altoona Kids Café website.