Emmanuel Lutheran participates in ‘Summer Fun at the Trails’ Program in Kettering

Approximately five years ago, a staff person from Emmanuel Lutheran church heard about a program called Food-tastic. Coordinated by the City of Kettering, this program focused on providing food to children during the summer who qualified for the free lunch program during the school year. When Emmanuel first got involved, the Health Ministry Team was very interested in helping with this ministry as they wanted to see if they could expand the kid’s food experience by including at least one healthy option with each meal along with the convenience foods normally served.

The City of Kettering has since expanded the program to include activity and education along with serving a meal and changed the name to ‘Summer Fun at the Trails’. As the name eludes to, the location for this offering is Trails of Oak Creek Apartments and residents of the community are invited to participate. The City of Kettering coordinates the program and many organizations help to provide food and programming week-days throughout the summer. Usually one organization, like Emmanuel Lutheran Church, is responsible for a whole week (or 5 days, M-F). Other organizations that have participated include: Fairhaven Church, Christ United Methodist Church, First Baptist Kettering, St. Charles Catholic Church and the Kiwanis Club.

Children who are eligible for free lunch can sign up at the beginning of the summer and most are elementary age with a few middle school children involved. The sign-up list is given to the providing organization for that week so that children can be checked-in each day. If a child shows up that is not on the list, he or she is never turned away, his or her name is just added to the list.

The sponsoring organization for that week is responsible for preparing and providing a meal at the apartment complex, followed by some type of programming. Emmanuel has chosen to do many different types of programming, including: bible studies/stories, prayer, witnessing, crafts like making jewelry, coloring, making bubbles, side-walk chalk and physical activities (kick ball and bike races). Since this program is sponsored by the community and does not receive government funding, there are no restrictions on the type of “faith-based” programming that can be offered. The book mobile also comes once a week and this year the Rosewood Art Gallery has earned a grant to send an Art Mobile as well.

Other benefits that come from the program are opportunities for the children to give back to the community. For example, past craft times have included making Kairos placemats which were later given to inmates and making cards for shut-ins. All kids who participate are encouraged to help by assisting with sign-in at registration, serving food during the meals, etc. Volunteers from Emmanuel are always encouraged and sometimes surprised by how much the children enjoy helping.

In 2017 the average attendance was 50, in past years it has been as high as 75. It is uncertain why the attendance dropped last year, but it may have been due to the number of tenants renting that summer. As may be expected, many children attend without their parents. An example would be a young girl, maybe 6 years old, who would push her younger sibling in a stroller to attend the program each day. She was very independent and at one point had broken her arm. Despite her condition, she was determined each day during meal-time to carry all the food for herself and her sibling. It was evident that she is often in charge of caring for her sibling during the day.

Since the inception of the activities and education format, Emmanuel has seen a great response to their faith-based programs. Many of the children have also attended their bible school, held at Emmanuel. They have also had mothers with children of the Muslim faith participate, being very receptive of the programming and engaging with the pastor in further discussions.

The Health ministry team continues to make a special effort to see that at least one healthy option is available at each meal and they do their best not to waste food by offering the kids the option to take home leftovers. Emmanuel feels it is a great ministry to continue. They love receiving the thank you notes created by the children at the end of the program and often have children thanking them each day they attend.

This is a great example of a community coming together to fill a need by using many resources and willing hearts and hands that are already available in their own community. What a difference can be made!

Interview with Connie King, Health Ministry Chair at Emmanuel Lutheran Church, written by Michelle Randall, Health Ministry Program Assistant.