How Carol Stream kids can receive free and healthy lunches this summer

Imagine you're a kid, school's out for summer and both your parents are working.

When lunchtime comes around, it would be easy to grab a bag of chips or a candy bar without the watchful eye of Mom and Dad.

It doesn't have to be that way, if you live in Carol Stream.

“Here, they're getting that nutrition,” says Bill Shields, superintendent of Carol Stream Elementary District 93.

“Here” is the gymnasium of Western Trails Elementary School, where children and teens of all economic backgrounds can receive free — and healthy — lunches every weekday this summer through Aug. 12.

It's only the second week of the new program, and volunteers already have served meals from the Northern Illinois Food Bank to 135 youngsters since June 6.

While organizers consider that a slow start, they're optimistic more families will take advantage of the hourlong lunches. They don't have to reserve a spot, but kids must remain at Western Trails while they eat.

“We're hoping and praying the numbers will increase,” says Nick Shargo, a driving force behind the Carol Stream Summer Lunch Program and a retired criminal bureau chief in the DuPage County Sheriff's office.

The menu, released monthly, covers all the major food groups. On Thursday, kids were treated to a hard-boiled egg, whole-grain bagel with strawberry cream cheese, blueberries, mandarin oranges and fat-free chocolate milk.

Behind the scenes, the roots of the program go back two years when Shields, Shargo and Robert McNees, an attorney and Carol Stream Rotary Club member, met to discuss the concept. At the time, the district had seen the number of students who qualify for free and reduced-price lunches — served during the school day — double in about five years.

“That seems to be something common going around the county,” Shields says.

Worried that those kids go hungry during the summer, Shargo began researching ways early this year to bring a so-called “open site” to Carol Stream, where Northern Illinois Food Bank meals are delivered to any child on a first-come, first-served basis. Now there are nearly a dozen such sites in DuPage.

Shargo enlisted fellow members of his Carol Stream church, Heritage Presbyterian, to clean tables, greet kids and serve the meals on Mondays. Volunteers from the village, park district and library cover Friday lunch shifts.

During the rest of the week, expect to see representatives from the school district, Fellowship Church of Carol Stream, St. Andrew United Methodist Church and Carol Stream Women's Club lending a hand.

“We never anticipated we would get the response by all the organizations,” Shargo said.

“Everybody's chipping in,” Shields agreed.

Initially, organizers planned to offer 50 meals each day, along with crafts and other activities. Now, 30 boxed lunches with cartons of milk arrive at Western Trails, but Shargo said he's prepared to request more from the food bank if demand picks up. Any leftovers are delivered to a food pantry at Lutheran Church of the Master in Carol Stream.

“The man's remarkable with all the time and effort he's put into this,” Shields said of Shargo.

The Wheaton man is a caretaker of his wife, a former schoolteacher who has Alzheimer's disease. And yet Shargo took on the undertaking because, quoting Muhammad Ali, “serving others is the rent we pay for the time we are here on earth.”

If you go

What: Carol Stream Summer Lunch Program

Who: Anyone 18 and younger who lives in Carol Stream

When: 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. weekdays this summer through Aug. 12. No meals will be served on the Fourth of July.

Where: Western Trails Elementary School, 860 Idaho St., Carol Stream

Cost: Free


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