Volunteers, families feel sense of community at summer food program

Published 6:17 pm Friday, July 27, 2018


For the Washington Daily News


“Okay, I need everyone to wash their hands,” a volunteer said.

It was noon at Quail Ridge Apartments and food volunteers from First Christian Church were about to hand out lunches. Kids as young as 2 to as old as their teens lined up, took a meal tray and sat down to eat, talking to one another all the while. After that, an arts and crafts project. It was raining, so there were no sports or games in the grass, but that usually would have been the case.

The Beaufort County Summer Food Service Program is in full swing.

Funded by the federal Department of Agriculture and organized by daycare center Care-O-World, the program has provided kids and teens free meals since early June. This is Care-O-World’s 10th year taking the helm. Beaufort County Schools, the previous lead sponsor, allows volunteers to use a kitchen at P.S. Jones Middle School. There are eight sites, two of which were added after the program started because of demand — one at Belhaven’s White Plains Church and another at Washington’s St. Peter’s Episcopal Church.

For one family new to the area, the program and the people behind it have epitomized small-town friendliness.

“We just relocated from Ohio,” said Keeana Huddleston. “This is our second month here. This program has defined why we moved from Cleveland to Washington.”

It’s about more than free meals, she said, “It’s about the community. They come play soccer, they have tutors here. This is where I learned about the best beach to go to.”

Huddleston has become accustomed to learning what the weather is like by looking out her window and seeing how many kids are playing soccer by the food tent, she said. She knows her kids will be outside for at least 30 minutes a day, Monday through Friday.

Her son, Kamren, 9, has made friends already.

“It was so amazing to me how everyone would gather up, have fun and play after eating,” he said. Play-Doh, cards and sports are the usual outlets.

Volunteers said they felt the same sense of community.

“You develop relationships with them,” said Pam Byrd, who works the Quail Ridge site. “You meet them at the beginning of the program, then you get to know them as it goes on. It goes from, looks like, ‘Who are you?’ to hugs.”

Lois McLaughlin is a former teacher who has worked the St. Peter’s site this summer. She’s taken care of the children and grandchildren she used to teach, she said. Photos she’s taken show kids building towers, fire trucks and a variety of other things out of Legos.

“We see (volunteering) as a good way to show Christian love, and these children show it back to us,” she said.

The program lasts until Aug. 17.

For more information, contact Care-O-World’s Teresa Clayton at 252-943-5616 or teresac@careoworld.org.