St. Luke’s Free Summer Lunch Program Seeing More Children

A free summer lunch program at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church on Wheeling Island is seeing an influx in the number of area children being served this year.

Between 35 and 40 children are being fed each day, coordinator Judy Rebich said. The dynamics of Wheeling Island’s population fluctuate frequently, she observed.

Rebich also anticipates another rise in lunchtime guests for the rest of the summer because, she said, a county feeding program concluded this past week.

St. Luke’s program, now in its 14th year, provides nutritious noonday meals for area children in need. The community project, which opened Monday, June 16, continues through Thursday, July 24. The project receives no governmental assistance.

During the six-week period, a free lunch is served to children and one or two caregivers per family from noon to 1 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Adults must be accompanied by a child in order to participate. The church is located at 200 S. Penn St.

Rebich, who is a member of St. Luke’s, organizes volunteers, plans meals and gathers food for the program. Rebich prepares meals on Monday and Wednesday. Carol Foose, a member of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Wheeling, handles meal preparation on Tuesday and Thursday. A few helpers, including Amy Long of Wheeling, assist with serving the meals and cleanup.

The coordinator expressed gratitude for the willing spirit and creativeness of Foose, who “is so caring,” Rebich said. She added that Foose makes different casseroles, and the director encourages the efforts to introduce new foods to children. “I don’t make the same thing every day,” Rebich related.

Of Long, Rebich added, “She’s been a great help to me this summer.”

The children who benefit from the program also play an important role in the program’s operation. “The kids wipe off the tables, put chairs away, sweep the floors and take out the trash,” Rebich said. “They’re wonderful little kids and very thankful.”

Rebich would like to add Friday meals if volunteers can be found to do the shopping, cooking and serving. “It takes two or three people,” she said. Prospective volunteers can call Rebich at 304-280-3397.

Rebich, who also serves as the church secretary and director of its food pantry, said she can’t add the Friday duties to her schedule. “I just can’t take it on,” she explained.

The Robert and Helen Levenson Family Charitable Trust and Jebbia’s Market of Wheeling continue as sponsors of the annual program. Jebbia’s provides fresh produce for the daily meals. “They have been so generous over the years,” Rebich remarked.

Additional monetary donations may be sent to St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, 200 S. Penn St., Wheeling, WV 26003 with “summer lunch” noted on the memo line of checks.

Donations of cupcakes or cookies are accepted as treats for the children. Donations of children’s books, new or used, also are sought.

Guests at the noonday meals include a mix of new and familiar faces. “I see some that I’ve seen since they were babies,” Rebich said, adding, “I’m seeing a lot of new ones. There are lots of kids.

“They (the children) love the idea that if I have something left over, they can take it home,” she commented. When children say, “Miss Judy, we have nothing at home,” she said, “I give them something to take home.”

With limited resources and increasing food costs, many parents face a difficult situation. “A lot of them make minimum wage, and it’s hard,” Rebich observed.

Meanwhile, the ranks of volunteers from the church has declined since the program’s inception. “We have a small congregation. A lot of them are older. They can’t make it. They are lucky to make it to Mass,” she said.

Currently, St. Luke’s is without resident clergy. The Revs. Theresa and Jim Kelley, who served as priest and deacon, respectively, at St. Luke’s for many years, are moving to Montana, where she has accepted a call to serve four small churches.