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Kids get no vacation from nutrition in Polo

Summer brings sun, fun, and activity into our children’s lives. It can also bring days of unstructured meals and snacks with little nutritional value. Nutrition just got easier this summer for parents in Polo, thanks to the new Kidz Café program.

Free lunch is provided every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for all children in the Polo community from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. The Kidz Café is at Faith United Methodist Church, 702 E. Dixon St. in Polo. All children can eat free and nutritious lunches all summer long. Transportation is also available to take children to and from the Kidz Café. The Kidz Café bus or van stops at 3 different locations in Polo for pickup and delivery.

I was able to experience the Kidz Café last Friday when I took three of my children via the Kidz van to enjoy a healthy lunch. A friendly greeter welcomed us when we arrived and gave us name tags to wear. My son’s stuffed bear, “Teddy”, even had his own name tag. The area was very clean and organized. Placemats were set on the tables with silverware and napkins. Food is prepared by certified food handlers and served by volunteers from the community.

I was amazed at the variety of food that was available for our lunch. The menu for that day included baked chicken legs, macaroni and cheese, raw vegetables with dip or peanut butter, cottage cheese, string cheese, applesauce, raisins, sliced apples, lettuce with shredded cheese, sliced eggs, and chopped ham for toppings, orange slices and cookies.

As my kids were enjoying their meal, I was able to ask Nikki Smith, one of the key members of the Kidz Café planning and preparation crew, a few questions I would like to share.

Who’s idea was the Kidz Café?

The idea originated from discussion within the Council of Churches committee. Members recognized the importance of children continuing to eat healthy lunches during the summer. For a variety of reasons, many children do not have access to healthy food.

Where does the food come from?

Several area churches conducted food drives to collect staple food items such as paper products and dry pasta. Many local businesses have either donated money or food items. All of this is greatly appreciated. Sullivan’s Foods in Mount Morris is allowing us to purchase meats and other perishable items at a discounted price. The majority of the fresh fruit and vegetables is bought at Valli Produce in Rockford. As gardens mature, those items will be wonderful to have for the children.

Has it been difficult finding volunteers?

No, the response from the community has been wonderful. It really is a communitywide project, and with the development of the Kidz Café Facebook page, more than 100 people have offered to help.

You have served lunches for 3 days now. Are you happy with the turnout so far?

Yes, but we are hoping to see more kids come for the free lunch. We want to make sure everyone knows about it and understands that all kids are welcome regardless of age or income level. Parents are welcome to eat as well. Spread the word and get all the kids here.

What do you hope to see in the future for the Polo Kidz Café?

We are hoping to make this a yearly project, serving children lunches every summer. We also would like to have meals available every day for the kids instead of only Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

How can people help?

At this time, we have plenty of staple foods. As gardens begin producing, people could donate extra vegetables and fruits. Monetary donations for fresh produce and meats would be greatly appreciated. Donations can be sent to the Kidz Café account at First State Bank of Shannon-Polo. Contact either Nikki Smith at nsmith@polo222.org or Marla Buskohl at mbuskohl@polo222.org if you have items to donate or would like to volunteer.

We had a wonderful time taking the shuttle bus to and from the Kidz Café, and the meal was incredible. I was even given ripened bananas that I took home and made into a beautiful loaf of banana bread. I hope to see more families enjoying the healthy lunches all summer long. Kudos to Polo for starting this amazing program and making good nutrition a priority for our children. What an incredible communitywide endeavor.

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