Hungry kids + happy noise
= Lunch Connection
By Gisele McKnight
At 11:45 on a Thursday morning, the hall at Portland United Church in Saint John’s north end is relatively quiet. But 15 minutes later the place has come alive. By then, upwards of 65 kids have arrived, thrown off their snowsuits, found a table and sat down, ready for lunch. It’s not a quiet endeavour.
But the happy noise of children is all part of the experience at Lunch Connection, one of several initiatives of the Inner City Youth Ministry headed by Bonnie Hunt and funded by the Anglican Church.
Feeding so many students from Centennial School requires a team of dedicated volunteers from several area churches, and the lunch-hour regimen runs without a hitch.
The kids sit as quietly as they can while Bob Fairweather, program co-ordinator, chooses a table. Then he invites those four or five kids to the front and they say grace:
“Centennial School lunch program.
God bless our friends and family.
God bless our food. Amen.”
It’s a simple blessing, with as much overt Christianity as they are allowed to inject into this ministry for hungry children.
Bob, a member of Portland United Church, has been here for the entire seven years of the program and acts as on-site co-ordinator. He has a team of helpers, including his wife of 53 years, Peggy, which does the cooking. The menu rotates: pancakes, apple slices and crackers; chicken burgers; grilled cheese; Kraft Dinner and chicken nuggets; rotini and sauce; and the absolute, hands-down favourite, sloppy Joes.
“I love it here,” said Bob. “I love the kids. I love the program. It’s tremendous. This is the north end of the city. The kids need this.”
He and volunteers from United, Catholic and Anglican churches, plus staff from Xerox, are feeding the kids three days a week.
Ada McNamara of St. John the Baptist (Mission) and St. Clements Anglican, along with her friend, Shirley Miller of St. Pius Catholic, began volunteering three years ago.
“This church and our church work well together,” said Ada. “We do a lot of things together.”
“I just inherited it,” said Bonnie of the team at Portland United. “It runs so well. I can just show up and interact with the kids.”
It’s truly a mission of Christian unity and Christian generosity, with funding for this particular program from Portland United and ICYM. All that’s required of parents is a signed permission slip.
Bonnie has been director of ICYM since last August and Centennial School is one of three lunch programs she oversees in vulnerable neighbourhoods in Saint John.