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Derry lunch program grows by ‘crazy amount’

Special to The Union Leader

August 17. 2017 12:53AM
Adults and children line up at The Fairways Apartments to obtain the free lunch offered throughout the summer from the Salvation Army’s mobile canteen. (Kathleen Bailey)

DERRY — The two agencies that make sure Derry kids don’t go hungry over the summer will be assessing how they can do it better for vacation in 2018.

The agencies, Southern New Hampshire Services and the Greater Derry Salvation Army, saw different results this summer.

Southern New Hampshire Services/Rockingham Community Action offered free bag lunches Monday, Wednesday and Friday, noon to 12:30 p.m. at the Fairways apartment complex, and Monday through Friday, 12:45 to 1:15 p.m., at Franklin Village Apartments.

The Salvation Army brought its mobile canteen to Fairways Tuesdays and Thursdays from noon to 1 p.m., and hosted children for a free lunch Wednesdays at the Army headquarters, 18 Folsom Road.

Lt. Kathryn Mayes, senior officer at the Salvation Army, said since she arrived two years ago, the program has grown “a crazy amount.” The agency used to have to work hard to get the word out and reach the children who need lunch. Last year they served 20 children a day, at the highest 40. This year they had between 60 and 100 by the second week.

After last year they tweaked their locations, dropping Hood Pond as a venue and feeding kids from their own parking lot on Wednesdays. They’ve seen more children and more consistency in the families who come, Mayes said.

Henry Harris, coordinator of the SNHS program, said he’s seen low attendance at both the Fairways and Franklin locations. Franklin Village was the higher, with up to five children, he said.

Harris attributed part of the problem to being short-staffed this year, with one staff member out with a knee injury.

Children are also more isolated, he observed, filling their summer with “screen time” instead of being outdoors.

Harris will be exploring different ways to feed children in 2018, including testing different sites and trying to get the word out. While most of their canteen staff are college students, he and the SNHS staff are considering hiring a parent from one of the complexes they serve, which will accomplish two goals: getting the word out, and giving a part-time job to a mom or dad in need.

“Our mission,” he said, “is to keep kids connected. We know there are kids that are hungry.”

— Kathleen Bailey

General News Manchester

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