Boys & Girls Club now serving dinner to children
By ADAM DRAPCHO, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — There was no question for Jim Holmes as to whether the Boys & Girls Club of the Lakes Region should add an evening meal program.
"We were finding that a lot of our kids at our club were always asking for extra snack or fruit, or extra food to take home," he said. Holmes, branch director for the club, located on North Main Street in Laconia. He worried that some club members, after leaving the club at the end of the afternoon program, might not have another meal before they went to bed. And, he was certain that working parents would be relieved to know that they didn't have to put a meal on the table at the end of the day. But, until recently, the club just didn't have the necessary facilities.
The history of the local Boys & Girls Club stretches back to 1999 and includes three different names – it was originally called the Belknap County Teen Center – and five locations. However, the tumult now seems to be relegated to the past, as the club is now the owner of its location, the former St. James Episcopal Church, and a merger with the Boys & Girls Club of Central New Hampshire has provided stability and access to greater programs.
While the property is in an excellent location, within walking distance to schools and parks, and with 17,000 square feet and room to expand, it lacked in certain areas. So, when the club embarked on a $1.5 million fundraising campaign to purchase the property, some of that total was earmarked for facility upgrades.
About $100,000 went to the installation of a commercial-grade kitchen and renovation of the space that is now used as a cafeteria. Chris Emond, executive director of the Boys & Girls Club of Central New Hampshire, said that the funding came from gifts made by the Lois G. Roy Dickerman Charitable Foundation and T-Bones restaurant.
With that work completed, the club began serving dinner last week, and will be serving food every night from now on. The meal will always include an entree, vegetable, fruit, milk and bread. The food comes from the New Hampshire Food Bank, the entrees are assembled by Food Bank volunteers and need only be re-heated and served by club staff members. The club receives reimbursement from the federal government for each meal served, so the ongoing food service affects the club's bottom line little, if at all, while providing a healthy meal every day.
"Once it gets going, it really pays for itself," said Emond. About 60 children are eating dinner at the club each evening, Emond said after the club had been serving for a week, and the club will also send children home with food if they have to leave prior to the dinner service, or if there's someone at their home who could use the meal.
The Boys & Girls Club offers a space for children to go before and after school, five days a week, and during school vacations. The Laconia site features a gymnasium, art room, games room, computer lab and lounge. Emond said the club serves about 100 children, in grades kindergarten through 12, and has space for about 50 more. There's still more work yet to do to the facility, said Emond, adding that future campaigns will seek funds to renovate the building's lobby, install an elevator, improve the building's windows and doors, update the bathrooms and improve the playground.
Isabella Peavey fills her plate with sweet and sour chicken, mixed vegetables and bread at the Boys & Girls Club of the Lakes Region. The club began serving dinner this month, made possible thanks to renovations to the kitchen and cafeteria. (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)
At the Boys & Girls Club of the Lakes Region, Jonathan Stebbins joined the 60 or so club members who welcomed the addition of dinner service, made possible thanks to renovations to the kitchen and cafeteria. (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)
Olivia Hudson, Kendra Walter, Ondreya Myers, Tanya Benzevich-McNeil and Adaline Ross share a laugh during dinner at the Boys & Girls Club of the Lakes Region. (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)