'Vacation station' caters to kids facing hunger during summer

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News
Volunteers from Gleaner's and Citizen Bank prepare lunches for children at kick off event Saturday.

Detroit — As schools wrap up for summer break, many children will visit a "vacation station" for lunches they would normally receive at school. 

In southeast Michigan, nearly 300,000 children receive free or reduced-fee meals in school and more than 150,000 children who miss meals , according to Gleaners Community Food Bank. 

On Saturday, Gleaners kicked off its 8th annual Hunger-Free Summer campaign with launch of "vacation station" in the  Emerald Springs neighborhood on Detroit's northeast side. The 12-week program, which runs through Labor Day, is geared toward feeding students who face hunger during the summer break. 

Khalil Biddle brought his almost 2-year-old son to the kick-off because he wanted to support the cause. 

"I grew up right on Seven Mile and Buffalo not far from here and I think hunger is a very important issue to tackle in this community," said Biddle. "This is my first Gleaners event and I'm very happy I came out and joined."

Citizen Bank and Ford Motor Company have sponsored the program since it's launch in 2011 and match all donations; every dollar donated provides six meals for southeast Michigan's hungry children. 

More than 50 children and their parents attended Saturday's event providing kids in the Emerald Springs community with healthy food and a summer camp experience. Kids danced with Detroit Pistons mascot Hooper, enjoyed arts and crafts, a magician, face painting and a balloonist. While parents can pick up to 35 pounds of food from Gleaners' mobile food pantry. 

Detroit Pistons mascot Hooper greets children waiting in line for balloons at the Gleaner's kickoff event Saturday.

Last summer, the program provided 2.6 million meals and Gerry Brisson, president and CEO of Gleaners, said they hope to set a new record this year.

"We would see more families in the summer than any other time of the year," Brisson said. "When school closes, families struggle more and the more we learned about what was happening, we knew we had to do something."

In 2017, Gleaners hosted nearly 90 summer meal sites, serving over 150,000 total meals. More than half will also serve breakfast this year, and some will serve meals on Saturdays.

This summer, there are 17 new stationary and four mobile pantry sites throughout Wayne, Macomb and Oakland counties. More than 10 housing complexes and four stationary sites will each receive three mobile pantries distributions.

"We got involved in the beginning because it is such an obvious need and it's a great place for us to jump into our communities and make a difference," said Rick Hampson, president of Citizen Bank of Michigan.

Left, Shayla, 11, Jamea, 10, Deasia, 10, and Chalfonte, 11, right, enjoy lunches on a humid day in Detroit.

Brisson said the children who face hunger are robbed of the joy and happiness of summertime and put them at a disadvantage when school starts again in the fall. 

"The meals we raise through Hunger-Free Summer offer relief and stability to those families and people have to understand hunger hits closer to home than you think. It's not just Detroit or Pontiac. Hunger touches every community, every single school in Michigan," Brisson said. 

Children, parents and volunteers dance to "Cupids Shuffle" at the kick off event Saturday.
  • The Emerald Springs Vacation Station will be open for two hours each Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday until Aug. 16 at 5825 Emerald Springs in Detroit. 


Twitter: @SarahRahal_