While walking to the library with her 22-month-old son, Jack Ottolino, Shelby Beck of DeKalb saw a sign advertising free lunches during the summer.
Interested in the program, Beck stopped by for more information and has since became a regular at Summer Lunch and More.
SLAM is held from noon to 1 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays until Aug. 4 at First United Methodist Church, 317 N. Fourth St. in DeKalb.
Now in its sixth year, SLAM offers free meals for the community, including children, parents, families, senior citizens and anyone in want or need. From 2012 to 2016, SLAM served more than 25,000 meals. Between 66 and 113 meals have been served per day this summer.
“I had never heard of the program before and thought it was a great idea,” Beck said. “I come once or twice a week, and the food is always different, always good. I like trying new foods and not having to cook during the summer heat.”
SLAM is hosted by FUMC in partnership with the Northern Illinois Food Bank, area churches, civic groups and community volunteers. The food bank provides boxed lunches for children and ingredients for meals. Donations from Schnucks and local farmers also provide ingredients.
“The program is open to anyone, even though it started as a way to help feed children who receive free and reduced lunch at school and senior citizens,” said Vicki Boone, coordinator of SLAM and KIDS’ Club. “The lunches encourage volunteering and people interacting. Food is a great way to bring people in the community together.”
Lisa Holub of DeKalb, who usually attends SLAM every day during the summer with her two children, 5-year-old Rose and 16-year-old Cody, said she enjoys the diversity of the meals offered. The SLAM lunch menu changes every day and includes items such as meatloaf, turkey, sloppy joes, chicken and chili.
“I love that they give us a lot of food and that there are plenty of options every day,” Holub said. “My kids used to get lunch at school, but now school is out for the summer. I don’t have to worry about whether I have enough food to feed them because we can eat here.
“We really enjoy coming for lunch. Everything is really fresh and good, especially the fruits and salads. We’re thankful there’s something like this in DeKalb,” she said.
SLAM Chef Kathi West said she creates healthy meals using budget-friendly recipes families can easily recreate at home.
“Once, a lady brought in canned pork she received from the food bank and wanted to know what she could make with it,” West said. “I like showing them what they can do with the items they receive, items they may never have eaten or heard of before.
“I love to see the huge smiles on their faces as they enjoy what they’re eating,” she said.
Other than a small stipend for the chef, SLAM is operated by volunteers – more than 15 each day. Volunteer organizations include First United Methodist Church, First Lutheran Church, Monsanto, DeKalb Classroom Teachers Association, Northern Illinois University students and high school students.
After eating, elementary school-aged children can attend KIDS’ Club from 1 to 2 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays. KIDS’ Club provides free science activities, art, cooking and woodworking classes, and fun and games.
Through a partnership with the DeKalb Public Library, preschoolers can participate in story time and craft once a week with music, movement, exploration and guided play.
Maria Franco of DeKalb not only attends SLAM lunches daily with her two children, 6-year-old Jayden Hernandez and 8-year-old Brianna Hernandez, she also helps volunteer after eating. Her children attend KIDS’ Club, where she says they have made new friends and learn something new every day.
“Attending the lunches helps us afford bills and the cost of food,” Franco said. “It is expensive to buy fresh fruit and produce. We love attending the lunch because the food is so good. ... We’re so grateful for the lunches and everything they do.”