ALTOONA, Iowa — School is out for the summer and that creates a major void for the approximately 30 percent of Southeast Polk students who qualify for free or reduced lunch.
As a way to make sure those students get fed, the “Altoona Kids Cafe” is stepping in to help.
It’s more than a place where at-risk kids can get a meal. It’s also a place where they can gain experiences they would probably never have otherwise, and that’s making it quite a popular place.
It started with only 30 kids, now it’s hit capacity at around 220 students. In their sixth summer of service, they had to close enrollment.
“We are a completely volunteer-based organization, and we only have so much space and so many volunteers, and so we can only handle so many kids,” Altoona Kids Cafe Executive Director and Co-Founder Maggie Crabb said.
It’s no wonder why so many kids love being a part of the program, with activities like learning a new instrument or getting some much-needed snuggles with a service dog. But the priority is always making sure no kid goes home hungry.
“Last year we started giving breakfast because there was a lot of kids coming in here hungry in the morning. It’s great seeing how their attitude changes once they get food and realize that it’s a safe place to be,” Volunteer coordinator Derek Carlson said.
“We knew that we needed to provide the food for the kids, but we knew that they needed something fun to do as well,” Crabb said. “We knew that would be the draw to get them here.”
Making it all possible are the volunteers. From the classroom helpers to the activities put on free of charge.
“The volunteers help us a lot and give us things [that] some people don’t have that,” Eve Cammu, an Altoona Kids Cafe member said. “They give us things and support us and we’re, like, all family.”
That family is large. At least 60 volunteers are needed every single day during the six-week program.
“Without the volunteers, there would be no program,” Kerrin Martinson, Co-Founder and Vice President of the Altoona Kids Cafe Executive Board said.
Not just anyone can attend the Altoona Kids Cafe. Since it’s a USDA program operated by a nonprofit, at least 50 percent of the children enrolled must be from households with incomes at or below 185 percent of the poverty level.
The program really saw its numbers grow after teaming up with the Southeast Polk School District for transportation services. They said one of the biggest problems with these programs is a lack of transportation for these families who want to utilize the services. Now school buses pick up any enrolled student who needs it.