Lunches for Vikings

From left, Stoughton High School senior Danielle Wiese, her brother Alex, 10 and her mother Deanna work as an assembly line putting together sandwiches for the Lunches for Vikings program last summer, in the St. Ann’s Catholic Church’s upstairs kitchen. Deanna said they thought the cause of making food for school-age children was a “good opportunity to volunteer.”

Every summer, hundreds of “Vikings,” from preschool to high school, are unleashed at the end of the school year, but not all of them are able to get the same nutrition as they do with school lunches.

For the third straight summer break, “Lunches for Vikings” helped make sure any Stoughton Area School District students in need don’t go hungry at lunchtime. This year, the program served 3,355 lunches on 58 days between June 11 and Aug. 30, including a one-day high mark of 101 lunches.

The volunteer-led program, organized by AnnMarie Oakland, partners with the district and the Friends of the Stoughton Area Youth Center to provide free brown bag lunches to all students through 12th grade in the district who lose access to free or reduced-cost school lunch during the summers. “Viking” lunches include a sandwich, fruit or vegetable, snack (chips, pretzels, etc.) and a water.

The program runs during the noon hour weekdays throughout the entire summer break, with pick-up stations at Kegonsa Elementary, Stoughton High School and Bay View Heights. Dozens of volunteers help purchase and put together the lunches — Oakland said 435 volunteer time slots were filled this summer; a new record.

“That’s a huge number, and we are so thankful for the people of Stoughton and beyond who faithfully gave of their time and financial resources to feed hungry kids,” she told the Hub last week.

One of the reasons for the increase in volunteer hours was centralizing the group’s base of operations at the Stoughton Area Youth Center last year, where volunteers meet to put together lunches to be delivered to the various sites.

“It’s been wonderful; now people know where it is all the time,” she said. “It’s nice to have one location, and they have a nice space there for what we need, because we don’t cook, we just make sandwiches and food prep, so it was perfect.”

While the work for this summer is done, Oakland has already started planning for next year. She will host an annual “wrap-up” meeting at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 10, at the youth center to “discuss what worked well, what could be improved, and how we can best proceed” for next year. In particular, she wants to find out what volunteers thought of the background checks instituted last year for anyone interacting with students.

“Every year we get feedback (and) entertain other ideas, because sometimes when you’re in the thick of it, you don’t necessarily see the outside,” she said. “I always want to be open to take in input.

“This is all about the community, and I want to make sure everyone has a buy-in to it.”

Email Unified Newspaper Group reporter Scott De Laruelle at scott.delaruelle@wcinet.com.