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Editor’s Note: The NB Anglican visited Inner City Youth Ministry’s Lunch Connection - Summer Edition program in mid-August. This is the report:

Every Tuesday and Friday at lunch time this summer, there’s a multi-generational, party-like atmosphere at 251 Wentworth Street in Saint John’s south end.

Three canopy tents are pitched, one for reading library books, one for lunch items and new books to take home, and one just for relaxing and enjoying the day. There are games being played, parents chatting, people eating, and a big Salvation Army van passing out hot dogs.

Today’s lunch also includes cheese strings, pita and hummus, carrots, pears, apples, oranges, granola bars, fruit chews, crackers, Rice Krispie squares, water and juice.

This is Inner City Youth Ministry’s Lunch Connection - Summer Edition, and it’s meeting a need in one of Saint John’s most priority neighbourhoods. But sometimes the need isn’t necessarily food, but socialization.

“It’s an awesome program,” says Christina. “We come pretty much every week. The kids just like to come and see the other kids and play games.”

A second aspect of the Lunch Connection is the backpack program. On Fridays, before people leave, 38 of them who’ve signed up get a recipe, the ingredients and instructions to make a supper. The change this year, despite a big jump in grocery prices, is the addition of meat, cheese and fresh produce.

At one o’clock the crowd thins, volunteers take down the tables and put away the chairs and toys, the staff from the Saint John Public Library loads their books in a wagon, and the tents come down. The van moves off the curb, the kids wave, and another multi-partner outreach event draws to a close.

“This is the fifth year we’ve done this program,” said Erin Rideout, executive director of ICYM, noting their partnership with the Saint John Public Library, the Salvation Army and PULSE, a grassroots organization serving the priority neighbourhood of the Lower South End, where ICYM is now headquartered.

“It’s the fourth for the backpack program. A lot of our families are new, and some we’ve gotten to know over the years.

“This summer has gone great. We have funding for 38 families for backpacks. This is our biggest number yet.”

The Lunch Connection - Summer Edition expanded to the North End this year, where once a week, they held a picnic, and 10 families got bags of food, sponsored by the YMCA Early Learning Centre.

Erin led a recipe upgrade this year, including the addition of Halal and vegetarian recipes to meet the needs of the neighbourhood. 

“We’re able to be flexible, and the recipe comes with simple instructions and all the food equipment they need. It’s all customized.”

But the recipe and instructions are not intended for one-time use only. 

“The idea is to buy items where people with low incomes could shop,” said Bonnie Hunt, program assistant. “We hope this is just the first time they’ll make it.”

Much of the food comes from discount grocery stores, and the recipe indicates the cost of each item.
So far this summer, their recipes have included broccoli salad, chicken tetrazzini, sausage and peppers skillet, ranch chicken and veggie bake, pulled pork, and chicken Caesar pasta salad. Broccoli salad has proven to be the most popular.

With summer now a memory, thoughts turn to fall, and for Erin and Bonnie, that means the return of volunteers to prepare hundreds of lunches each week for several area schools.

The Lunch Connection will add one school in October, though it has room for two more, which will probably come later this fall. 

They are getting grant money here and there to help fund their efforts, and of course, the 1,600 cloth lunch bags that so many readers sewed for the project since the beginning of the year have been instrumental in curbing paper bag costs and easing the environmental footprint of the group.

“We still need bags,” said Erin. “We’re happy to have more.”

As of June, they prepared a minimum of 400 lunches, three times a week, so having more lunch bags means more flexibility for laundry, missing bags, and bags that become torn. With the anticipated addition of more schools, the need for more cloth lunch bags will increase.

So please keep sewing, said Erin.

For the lunch bag pattern, visit their Facbook page:

1.  A wide shot of the Inner City Youth Connection Lunch Connection's site where they hold picnics twice a week during the summer. Here, Liz England of the Salvation Army plays with bubbles to entertain children.

2.  Jayda plays with blocks while Eamon and Ira play behind her.

3.  Saint John Public Library summer student Rachel Manning reads to some of the boys at the event.

4.  Bonnie Hunt and Erin Rideout during tear down of their twice-weekly picnic outreach.

McKnight photos

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