By: Johanna Monson Geerts
Starting the summer meals program has been very exciting for Great Falls Public Schools this year. With the purchase of our new, bright green food trailer, we began offering free lunch and activities in parks around Great Falls. The program has been great so far, and we’re thrilled that our hard work has paid off!
While I’ve worked with almost every aspect of the program, I still think of my job in terms of three main categories: volunteers and activities, outreach, and the kickoff event.
Recruiting volunteers began long before summer-in fact I started back in December! With daily activities at several sites and operation extended to 44 days, I needed lots of volunteers. The current volunteer-led activities include arts and crafts, outdoor games and sports, wildlife lessons, and gardening activities. Each activity lasts about an hour and starts before lunch is served, hopefully drawing kids to the summer meal site. So far activity participation has been low, but lots of kids are coming for lunches, which is what counts!
When it comes to community outreach, we try to reach as many people as possible, so we use a variety of mediums to convey the information. Sometimes that means press releases and interviews with journalists, or writing and recording a radio PSA. Other times, it’s more old-fashioned: stapling posters to lamp posts and handing out fliers in the park. Social media is awesome too. I used Facebook to promote the summer meals kickoff! It’s always satisfying to tell a parent about the program and see their children eating lunch the next day.
My most daunting project has definitely been planning the summer meals kickoff. An incredible amount of preparation goes into a 2-hour event, including planning activities, recruiting volunteers, finding supplies and equipment, writing media advisories, and confirming (and re-confirming) everything. Luckily, the event turned out well! The kickoff included outdoor games, seed planting, face painting, and building sculptures from Easter PEEPS. There was even live music from the Great Falls High School drum line. Nearly a hundred kids ate lunch at the park that day!
Though we’ve all made adjustments throughout first couple weeks, the program is definitely off to a great start! Between running activities myself and continuing to recruit volunteers for when I leave, I definitely have plenty to keep me busy for the rest of my AmeriCorps term.