Triple degree weather, six hours, eight apartment complexes, 22 miles, 275 meals, and hundreds of smiling faces. That sums up my ride along experience on the mobile route of Three Square's summer food service program, Meet Up and Eat Up. The program is designed to reach children 18 and younger in underserved neighborhoods that don't have access to summer meal sites. I had the opportunity to join the mobile route for a closer look, and it's a day I'll never forget…
Instead of settling in at my desk like I usually do, I reported for duty in the warehouse.I met up with our Childhood Nutrition Driver, Bob, who had just finished packing the refrigerated van with meals. I was eager to hit the road for a firsthand encounter of Bob's delivery route.
I rode shot gun with the AC on full blast as we embarked on a journey through the east side of Las Vegas. Much like an ice cream truck, a happy tune rang through our speakers to let the children know we were near. I was overwhelmed with a nostalgic feeling that brought me back to my childhood. I instantly remembered the days when the ice cream man used to drive through the neighborhood before dinner. We didn't have ice cream, but I knew our free meals would bring a similar joy.
We arrived to our first location just before 9 o clock. It was quiet, so I assumed most people were still sleeping. However, I realized that some couldn't afford to sleep in, because they were fretful of missing their chance to eat. Children slowly greeted the sun in their jammies, wiping the crust from their eyes as they walked toward the van for food. My heart was stolen by a young girl who thanked us because she was grateful she didn't have to eat chips for breakfast again. Instead she received a wholesome meal in exchange for a smile.
Childhood hunger is a hard concept to wrap your mind around, and it's difficult to ignore once you meet the people who struggle firsthand. Every family has a story. In most cases they are fighting circumstances beyond their control. I had a glimpse into the reality of a few families when we arrived at an extended stay hotel. Where five or even six people were packed into tiny studios with limited food to go around. It truly was a disheartening sight to see. In spite of their living situation, the positive energy from the gracious children made it an uplifting experience for me.
After lunch, we were greeted by the welcoming sight of 30 children anxiously awaiting the arrival of the Three Square van. Bob was just as excited to see them. I was quite impressed that he knew every single one of their names, even some of their nicknames. He had bonded with the kids and I could tell it meant the world to them.
I stood in awe as the face of every child lit up the moment we opened the back of the van. While some students look forward to summer vacation, others are constantly reminded that hunger does not take the summer off. Not only did we fill their tummies, we instilled hope and gratitude into everyone who received a meal. You hear about kids being picky eaters, but these kids didn't fit the stereotype. Their inadequate diets became very evident as the children became enthusiastic over the fruits and vegetables inside their meal boxes. That observation alone expressed the importance of having access to a well-balanced meal.
My favorite part was witnessing how grateful the children were to receive their weekend food bags. The bags provide four meals and a few snacks that sustain them until they have access to free meals again. I watched as a three year old child eagerly reached for a bag that was nearly twice her size. Her older brother quickly grabbed the bag with one hand as he grasped her hand with the other. He thanked us for the "presents", and explained that the food is like a gift because you never know what you're going to get each day. He gave me a new appreciation for what Three Square does for the community.
I was greatly impacted by the route and it was an eye opening experience. I now understand why this program is absolutely necessary. The route showed me just how great the need is, and I recognize how much the meals mean to the children who depend on them most. Three Square is definitely on the road to ending hunger, and I am honored to take part in such a wonderful mission.