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story.lead_photo.caption Barb Slevin shows the items in the pre-packaged food boxes that will be sent home with children so they'll have plenty to eat for the weekend. Slevin is volunteering with the Food 4 Kids program at First Presbyterian Church. Photo by Julie Smith / News Tribune.

A local summer lunches program hosted by First Presbyterian Church will be doing something different this year than the program has done in previous years.

On Fridays, it will send "Buddy Packs" home with the kids for weekends.

Within the Food 4 Kids program, which is aimed at feeding hungry children, teams from nine local churches and nine businesses and government agencies prepare and deliver lunches to area children in low-income neighborhoods five days a week.

Beginning this year, the Food Bank of Central and Northeast Missouri is also providing the buddy boxes that children can take home for weekends, First Presbyterian Church volunteer Barb Slevin said.

The boxes contain non-refrigerated milk, cereal, a breakfast bar, a breakfast snack, a fruit or nut snack, fruit cups, canned entrees, bread or crackers, salty snack, trail mix, sweet snacks and hot sauce.

The food bank has about 5,000 of the meals, which it will distribute throughout the summer in Columbia and Kirksville, as well as Jefferson City, said Shelley Swoyer, organizer of the Jefferson City Food 4 Kids program.

"If they go all summer, that would be great," Swoyer said.

On weekdays, through Aug. 15 (which is a day before most area schools start holding classes), volunteers pack bags of lunch containing a sandwich, boxed drink, some sort of fruit when available (fruit cups when fresh fruit isn't available) and a granola bar. They pack the meals in a cooler to keep them fresh until they are delivered.

Monday was the first day of the annual program.

The churches provide additional snack packs in case there aren't enough of the meals available on any given day.

People preparing the first day's lunches came from First Christian Church. Members of the same church will continue all week. Labor in preparing the meals for future weeks will be provided by Immaculate Conception, Wesley Methodist, Scholastic, Grace Episcopal, First Baptist, First Presbyterian and Grace Evangelical Free churches.

First Christian Church's Nancy Samp said the churches used to rotate every day. That was more difficult. Workers would just start to get into a rhythm and begin to get comfortable with the work, then they would be switched out.

"This is so much easier," she said.

Elaine West of First Christian Church helped prepare meals Monday. She and husband Jerry West have been participants in the program for the past five years.

The couple will be there every day during the week First Christian Church prepares meals. They'll also likely be involved in some delivery of meals during another week.

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On Monday, the couple helped make 80 turkey and American cheese sandwiches on white bread. They also counted out and packaged baby carrots in zippered sandwich bags.

"It is very difficult with the gloves on," Jerry West said about making the sandwiches.

Other veteran volunteers offered it's not as difficult as peanut butter and jelly day, which is every Friday.

Production was moving faster than some of the volunteers had anticipated. Because the sandwiches went together quickly, the volunteers had to put them on ice to keep them fresh, Elaine West said.

Swoyer goes out and buys the food fresh each week, using Walmart gift cards provided by the food bank, she said.

"(The food bank) provides almost all our food budget," Swoyer said. "It used to be that we didn't get any fresh fruits or vegetables. Beginning last year, they started that. It's a very nice alternative for the kids."

Debi Wells also helped prepare meals for delivery.

"I'm doing this to help out any kid out there who needs a lunch," she said. "It concerns me that I know there are more out there who need it."

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