Volunteers needed to distribute free summer lunches

Free summer lunch will once again be available to children ages 1-18 across the region this summer thanks to United Way of Northeastern Minnesota (UWNEMN)’s Meet Up and Chow Down program.


The program, now in its fourth year, is provided through a partnership between UWNEMN, the USDA, and Minnesota Department of Education’s Summer Food Service Program and relies heavily on volunteers to distribute the bag lunches.


“Last summer we served a record 6,625 free summer lunches through Meet Up and Chow Down,” said

UWNEMN Community Impact Coordinator Michelle Lampton. “There’s no way our staff of six could have accomplished that on our own.”


Volunteers load up coolers full of bag lunches, bring them to the designated location, and hand out meals each day. Many local companies and organizations participate, dedicating volunteers one day each week of the summer.


This summer, UWNEMN is concerned about finding enough volunteers for the program due to COVID-19 hardships placed on companies that normally dedicate volunteers for the program.


Sites in Chisholm (Kiwanis Park), Hibbing (HRA) and Virginia (Olcott Park and Pine Mill Court) are specifically in need of volunteers. Any 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 contact michelle@unitedwaynemn.org.


In an effort to keep families picking up meals healthy and safe, volunteers will be required to wear masks and gloves during lunch distribution. UWNEMN can provide masks and gloves if needed.


Several changes have been made to the program itself as a result of the pandemic, as well.


Children will no longer be required to eat on-site; lunches will now be “grab and go” style. In addition, several communities, including Ely and Nashwauk, that participated in Meet Up and Chow Down last summer will be providing summer lunches directly to children through their schools, instead.


2020 Meet Up and Chow Down sites are: Chisholm Kiwanis Park (12:30-1:30 pm), Hibbing’s Bennett Park (12-1 pm), Hibbing HRA (12-1 pm), Hibbing Lincoln Elementary (10:15-11 am), Mt. Iron Public Library (12-1 pm), Virginia AEOA (12-1 pm), Virginia HRA (12-1 pm), and Virginia’s Olcott Park (12-1 pm).


All Meet Up and Chow Down sites will open June 8th and serve lunches rain or shine Monday-Thursday until September 3rd.


Families picking up lunches through the program are also asked to wear masks and to be cognizant of social distancing when waiting for their food.


“The COVID-19 pandemic has changed a lot of things, but one thing it hasn’t changed is our dedication to uniting against childhood hunger,” said UWNEMN Executive Director Shelley Valentini.


For more details on Meet Up and Chow Down, click here.