LACONIA — Got Lunch! Laconia marked the start of its fifth season feeding school aged children in Laconia during the summer months as volunteers gathered at the Laconia Congregational Church Monday morning to pack food and fresh vegetables which were delivered to homes later in the day.
The program is now widely emulated around the state, according to John Walker, who along with
the Rev. Paula Gile, associate pastor of the Laconia Congregational Church, helped get the ball rolling to establish the program, who noted that it has now spread to 18 towns in New Hampshire.
He said that more than 600 children will receive food from this year's program, which this year has added fresh vegetables and organic eggs thanks to a partnership with the Lakes Region Agricultural Collaborative which will provide vegetables such as lettuce, cucumber, radishes, summer squash, zucchini and carrots for distribution to families in the city.
''It's a real partnership. We've very glad that the local farms have joined the effort,'' said Walker.
Among those volunteering to help pack the shopping bags for distribution this morning were two college students who just completed their freshman year, Aaron Kelleher, an engineering student at North Carolina State, and Chelsea Marshall, who has completed her first year in the physical therapy program at Simmons College in Boston.
Kelleher says that it's his fifth year as a Got Lunch! volunteer, and that he enjoys taking part in a community project. ''It's a great program that really helps people,'' said Kelleher, who added that he also volunteers for a number of community organizations in college.
It's the fourth year for Marshall, who said that it was a shock to realize how many families she knew who were recipients.
''I like volunteering for my community. What a great way to give back,'' she says.
Got Lunch was formed in 2011 to help provide meals for needy students during the summer months when there are no student meal programs in city schools, where 60 percent of students are eligible for free and reduced-price lunches.
Laconia Mayor Ed Engler credited Walker and Gile with having the vision to get the program started and noted that Laconia's 60 percent eligibility for free and reduced lunches is twice the statewide average of 30 percent.
''Stop and reflect on that,'' said Engler, who said ''we wear ourselves out by patting ourselves on the back about what a great state we are. We should have a conversation with our local and state officials about this and what can be done to make the situation better,'' said Engler.
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