SPRINGFIELD, Mo — At 3pm on Thursdays, the Grant Beach Community Garden comes to harvest: as cars and pedestrians file into the covered tent on West Hovey Street.
“The volunteers who do the unpacking and the sorting go through the line first. Then the green group, and then the red group,” explained one of the volunteers. She was in charge of checking people in, and determining whether they met the garden’s criteria: A $5 donation per calendar year, and 2 volunteer hours at the garden every month.
A good standing puts you in the green group, whereas a delinquency in a payment or volunteer time will send you to the last group to get their basket of produce. They’ve distributed over 280,000 lbs of healthy food since 2014.
This time of year, it’s pleasant out in the afternoon. Although weather never has, and never will stop their handouts. They meet regardless of rain, shine, snow, or sleet: tending to the great need in their community.
“This one young boy came over and asked for an apple,” explained Jerry Saylor. He is the produce manager at the Grant Beach Community Garden, and sat under the tent with a clipboard.
“I would ask him what the magic words were, and he would say ‘please and thank you’. Next thing you know, there were 3 boys.”
And 3, soon turned in to over 30 that make their way daily from nearby Weaver Elementary to the Boys and Girls Club.
It’s quickly turned into one of Jerry’s favorite times of day.
“The joy that they have on their faces: They hold up their apple, and say look at the one I got! It warms my heart that they are making good healthy food choices,” said Saylor.
Jerry is not alone in providing much needed quality food for kids in Springfield. In fact, Springfield Public Schools report that 55-percent of its student population participate in free and reduced lunch.
“So that means 55% of our families need assistance with food, but there are probably much more that need it,” said Amy Gibbons, Director of Nutrition Services for Springfield Public Schools. “They just don’t know they’re eligible for programs within our community or our district.”
Eligibility is based on family size and household income.
A family of 4, making around $45,000 a year (or about 1,800 every two weeks) would qualify. Most of the time, these are the same families that already qualify for food stamps.
But the free and reduced lunch program is not the only one offered by SPS.
“As our families change, so does our school district. We have to in order to meet the needs of our families,” said Gibbons.
The school district also sends home backpacks full of food on the weekends to hungry kids. 33 school sites even offer breakfast every day in the classroom.
“We know that a good breakfast starts your day. It puts all students on the same playing field to learn,” said Gibbons.
That, combined with an apple in the afternoon, is a step in the right direction.
“The world is what we make of it,” explained Jerry Saylor.
“We can either get involved and do something positive, or we can ignore it. But it’s not going to go away. The need is always going to be there.”
There is no deadline to apply for free and reduced lunches. That means if a hardship hits your family halfway through the school year, that you can always apply and be accepted into the program.