Sunday evening at 6 p.m., 10 to 15 people gathered in the auditorium of Knox County Academy to help package lunches for over 400 Galesburg students. This group, known as the Lunch Spot, has been providing lunches to students since the beginning of January. By 7:30 p.m., the group had put together 900 sack lunches to feed those 400 children over two days with extra supplies in case more mouths needed to be fed.
Last spring, Galesburg Community Unit School District 205 decided that they would start school two weeks earlier in the fall of 2010 and then cut two weeks of class in January to save overall energy costs in the winter. This, in turn, left several hundred Galesburg students without lunch for the first two weeks of January.
“We saved $112,000,” Assistant Superintendent for District 205 Joel Estes said. “That’s a couple of teacher’s jobs.”
After hearing about the January closure, community members from both Knox and Galesburg responded quickly. Between five different organizations, including The People in Galesburg’s Hunger Action Group, Knox County Area Project (KCAP), Galesburg Community Unit School District 205, Regional Office of Education 33 and Knox students from Alliance for Peaceful Action (APA), food was provided to any and all students who needed it during these two weeks through the Lunch Spot. After packaging lunches several times a week, those working with the Lunch Spot took the food to 13 different locations throughout Galesburg where students and their parents could pick them up. Since the group was prepared and made extra lunches, no one was turned away.
It was last spring that Knox Professor of Environmental Studies Peter Schwartzman and former columnist for the now-defunct Zephyr newspaper Bruce Weik, both of whom are prominent members of the community action group The People in Galesburg, started brainstorming about how to provide lunches for children who would usually have their meals at school.
Weik said that at the first meeting to address the problem, about seven or eight people showed up.
“We didn’t have a whole lot of time,” Weik said. “People just jumped on board.”
Some of the people that jumped on board were Knox students, specifically those from APA. Senior Alison Ehrhard said she knew they could help.
At the end of fall term, APA did whatever they could to raise awareness of the fact that, Ehrhard said, “Hunger is happening in this community.”
After holding a food drive in the fall, senior and APA member Abraham Diekhans-Mears said, “We gathered a whole bunch of food. And then we went in the mornings to Knox County Academy and made lunches.”
Outside of the food drive, Ehrhard and others also tabled in the gallery of Seymour Union, asking students to donate their meal swipes.
“We basically came up with this idea that we wanted to food swipes to translate into food for the kids,” she said.
Director of Dining Services Helmut Mayer organized a way for each meal swipe would be turned into a boxed lunch and donated to the Lunch Spot.
It only took two days of tabling for Knox students to donate 1,576 meal swipes, which Mayer rounded up to 1600.
“The majority of the swipes came from us tabling,” Ehrhard said. “We kind of worked with Helmut and we came up with a menu that he thought would be nutritious with the resources we have available at Knox.”
Weik said that students needing lunches were able to sign up online or through their schools. He said that at the beginning, around 300 students were signed up, and that number continued to grow.
The People in Galesburg, however, is not a 501(c)(3), which is labeled officially by the Internal Revenue Service as a charitable organization.
That’s where Rhonda Brady, Executive Director of KCAP, a 501(c)(3) organization, came in.
“They could not accept donations without a 501(c)(3),” Brady said. “[KCAP] also has a sales tax exempt status, so everyone’s donation funds goes straight for the food.”
KCAP became the drop off place for the donations.
Schwartzman said that people got involved with the Lunch Spot for many different reasons, and while he was happy that it was successful, he wants to see more community action against hunger in the future.
“I got into this because of hunger,” Schwartzman said. “Some of us want to do soup kitchens, too,” he said, a possibility that might be in the future for The People in Galesburg’s Hunger Action Group.
Estes said that the school district has been “really happy with the way it turned out,” and that they did everything they could do to help the cause by printing out all the materials used to advertise the Lunch Spot. He also said the two-week school closure is something that could happen again next year.