For many students, school is one of the few places they may depend upon for a reliable meal. But what happens when school is out for the summer for these students who receive free or reduced lunch? The City of Columbus Recreation and Parks Department sponsors a program called GoLunch! in the summer months and has been working to address this issue for 48 years. The Summer Lunch Service Program program is designed to provide safe spaces for kids to eat healthy food and play during the hottest time of the year. Many of the sites for the program are located in food deserts, where healthy and sustainable food is impossible to find. The Summer Lunch Program provided more than 500,000 healthy meals last summer. The GoLunch! Campaign was launched this year to encourage sponsors and partnerships as well as destigmatize free-lunch programs. The department utilizes 220 pop-up sites all over Columbus with most sites providing some type of enrichment as well such as crafts or games.
Ohio Wildlife Center has had the opportunity to be a part of this enrichment this summer. We offer our outreach and education programs for a reduced price and go to a different location throughout Columbus every Wednesday. I came along for the ride this week and it was one of my favorite experiences here this summer. These are kids who are facing real struggles but for an hour they were fascinated by an opossum, an owl, a turtle and a snake. Wildlife in urban circumstances is often seen as a nuisance or a threat and many of them had never seen an opossum or an owl before. The kids were initially terrified by the snake but by the end of the program most of them were willing to pet him, claiming he felt like a basketball. This program felt so different than other educational programs I’ve experienced throughout the summer because of the overwhelming spirit of genuine interest. They asked questions for the sake of learning. The little girl below even hugged Stormy, our education director, after she let her pet the snake while Stormy held back tears.
After the program was over, many of the kids ran up to us asking us if we needed help carrying the animal crates back out to the van and I was once again overwhelmed by their kindness and willingness to help others.
While at first, Ohio Wildlife Center may not seem directly connected to issues such as food insecurity, summer learning loss or lower-income communities, we are all socially responsible to do our part in our communities. Our mission spans the breadth of many issues, surpassing native wildlife health. We do not have to feel limited to our finite space in life. Doing good is doing good any where you can, any time you can, any way you can.