United Way of Northeastern Minnesota (UWNEMN) has added four new sites to its free summer lunch program, Meet Up and Chow Down, for a total of 13 locations where local children can access food while school is out of session.
The program will offer free lunches to all children ages 0-18 June 5th through August 31st at the following locations:
- Biwabik City Park
- Chisholm Kiwanis Park
- Cook Public Library
- Gilbert Public Library
- Hibbing Bennett Park
- Hibbing HRA Playground
- Hoyt Lakes Public Library
- Keewatin City Park
- Mountain Iron Public Library
- Nashwauk Public Library
- Virginia AEOA
- Virginia HRA
- Virginia Olcott Park
Volunteers and UWNEMN staff will hand out bag lunches at these locations from 12 pm to 1 pm Monday through Thursday each week, rain or shine. Additional UWNEMN volunteers will be on-site Thursdays distributing Summer Buddy Backpacks – bags with food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner that children can take home for the weekend.
“The Iron Range is passionate about keeping our local children fed,” said UWNEMN Executive Director Erin Shay. “We are so grateful for the community support that’s allowed us to not only expand Meet Up and Chow Down to offer more locations but also to create and grow Summer Buddy Backpacks.
These two programs make a perfect partnership to keep local children from going hungry over the summer.”
Meet Up and Chow Down lunches are prepared by local schools, grocery stores, and restaurants and made free to the public with funding from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Minnesota Department of Education (MDE)’s Summer Food Service Program. USDA and MDE guidelines require that Meet Up and Chow Down lunches must be eaten on-site.
Meet Up and Chow Down started in 2016 and has continued to grow each year, but a program this large comes with a great need for support.
“We serve the largest geographic footprint of any United Way in the state and have a staff of eight, so we would not be able to offer this program in so many communities without volunteer support,” Shay said.
According to No Kid Hungry, only 16% of children who need USDA-funded summer meals can access them.
“Food insecurity is a real problem, especially in our rural areas where travel barriers compound the problem,” said UWNEMN Community Impact Program Coordinator Michelle Lampton. “It’s important to us that we provide this program in as many communities as possible to eliminate that barrier.”
New this year are locations in Biwabik, Gilbert, Hoyt Lakes, and Keewatin.
“We are so excited to grow Meet Up and Chow Down this way, but we really want to get the word out to volunteers about these new opportunities,” Lampton said. “The further out into our service area we continue to reach, the more reliant we become on volunteers to keep those sites open and available to local children.”
Some Meet Up and Chow Down locations are fully staffed with volunteers, but there are still many volunteer opportunities. Keewatin and Nashwauk locations have the highest need for volunteers at this time.
Individuals, companies, or organizations interested in staffing a Meet Up and Chow Down site for one day a week (either for one month, two months, or the whole summer) can visit www.unitedwaynemn.org/meet-up-chow-down.
Meet Up and Chow Down lunches and Buddy Backpacks will not be served July 3rd-7th.