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Serving the community, one free meal at a time

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By Judy Halone-The Courier-Herald

More than 3,200 free meals were served to school-aged youths this summer through the Bonney Lake Food Bank’s nine-week summer feeding program.

“It went awesome,” director Stew Bowen said.

The program operated through the state’s Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction and was overseen by the USDA. It was a trial-and-error period for Bowen, who came on board a year ago following the completion of the organization’s first feeding program and the resignation of director Melvin Donyes.

“Mel had some numbers last year and I went through them and kind of averaged them out,” he said. “But I didn’t know what this year was going to bring.”

What it did bring were 2,121 children accepting dinners at Allan Yorke Park and 1,791 lunches at Ponderosa, Prairie Ridge, Rhododendron Park and Cedar View.

The latter accounted for 1,097 of those lunches.

“The big hit for lunch was Cedar View because of the city’s Kids Club activities at the park,” he said. “That was the biggest lunch site.”

It wasn’t always easy to estimate numbers; his volunteers sought to make sure no one walked away hungry.

“I underestimated the turnout at a couple of the Kids Club events,” he said. “But it’s difficult to estimate. One day, we brought in 80 meals when the Reptile Man was there. I counted the kids in line and there were 20, so I brought in 50 more, thinking there’d be a few more kids that would come. And still, we were 20 short. We served 130 meals and could have easily served 150.”

Although the lunches and dinners were successful, the breakfasts at Allan Yorke Park were not and Bowen eliminated them the last two weeks of the program after serving 75.

“We attributed it to the demolition of the apartments across the street; there just weren’t kids available - that’s a long way to come for breakfast.”

He noticed the impact economics are placed on household budgets and said his volunteers were grateful for the opportunity to serve the youths.

“It reached to many children who said they had nothing else to eat that day, other than what our volunteers provided,” he said. “You do what you can do.”

The program required careful accountability that included monthly reports and undergoing an audit.

“We were very careful to utilize our resources so there was no waste,” he said.

Bowen is searching for a larger food preparation site for next year to replace the cramped quarters of the snack shack at Allan Yorke Park.

“If we had a larger, commercial-style kitchen, it would make meal preparations much, much more effective,” he said.

Reach Judy Halone at jhalone@courierherald.com or 360-802-8210.

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