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story.lead_photo.caption Vernon Alexander reads a Dr. Suess book to Devin Bryant, Maycee Hannahs, Jordan Alexander and Ariana Armstrong, all students in the 3- to-5-year-old class at Cole East Head Start. Tuesday was the 100 Man Lunch at the day care which saw several dads, grandfathers and volunteers show up to read, play or eat lunch with the young students. Photo by Julie Smith / News Tribune.

Too many children enrolled in the Head Start program in Cole County don't have male role models. And too few men volunteer to participate in activities at the Cole East Head Start program, spearheaded by Central Missouri Community Action.

So, on Tuesday, the child care facility held its annual 100 Man Lunch, in which facility leaders invite adult men to come in, eat lunch and interact with children.

The program serves 48 children — 16 who are younger than 3, and 32 who are 3-5 years old.

Even if it's for a short time, the annual event allows children to connect with positive male role models, said Rachel Strange, team leader at Cole East Head Start.

The men get to sit down and share lunch — provided by donors like KFC, McAlister's Deli and Bandana's Bar-B-Q — with the children and participate in other activities with them.

Some read books.

Some danced.

"All of these men and role models, they help us with our in-kind funding," Strange said. "Each (Head Start) site has an in-kind goal."

Head Start programs, which promote school readiness for children under 5, are mostly funded through federal grants. However, they are required to match the funding through donations from the public.

"We like to do a lot of what we call 'fatherhood' events," Strange said.

Fatherhood events are intended to get fathers and volunteers engaged in the children's lives.

The program serves parents who can't afford child care, whether it's because they are working, students, homeless, experiencing poverty or for other reasons, Head Start team member Deniece Moore said.

Not only does the program provide child care, but it also works with families to help them learn to stand on their own, Moore said.

Four times each year, team members go to the children's homes to work with parents. While there, team members can assist families to gain access to other CMCA programs, such as winterization.

"We talk about not only what children can do," Moore said, "but how (parents) can help themselves."

For Tuesday's event, the team began reaching out to male role models months in advance, she said, sending out flyers to organizations like police and fire departments. They also reached out to the children's fathers.

And they asked their friends to participate.

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Ron Schieferdecker, of Holts Summit, sat at a folding table eating fried chicken in the midst of eight hungry toddlers late Tuesday morning. The musician explained he has four children, who are mostly grown. They range in ages from 15-20, he said. And although he hasn't had toddlers of his own for some time, he has a number of tiny nieces and nephews who keep him up to date.

Beside him sat Jay Armistead, of Jefferson City, who said he also has a 20-year-old daughter.

"It's our first time coming, so we didn't know what we were getting into," Schieferdecker said. "I talked with the kids a little bit. We come from a big family, so I'm around little ones all the time."

It sounds like there's a need for good male role models, Armistead said. He hoped to bond with some of the children.

"We're slowly but surely getting to know each other a little bit," he said. "It's just neat to meet the kids. And it sounds like there's a need for good role models."

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