by Ashley Hillman

Community Collaborations Director

Kids Café, a program through the Utah Food Bank, recently began at the Lincoln Elementary Community Learning Center. Kids Café provides over 1,300 hot, nutritious meals to kids (18 and under) at Community Learning Centers, community centers, and other afterschool programs. Prepared meals are delivered to the sites Monday thru Thursday and volunteers help serve and clean-up. I started volunteering with Kids Café one day a week at Lincoln and what a joy this has been!

My first evening volunteering, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was amazed at the organization and structured system that had been established under the direction of Annika Jones, CLC Coordinator at Lincoln. The President of the PTA, as well as a couple of parents were putting on their hairnets, aprons and gloves when I arrived. I followed suit and joined the assembly line, dutifully taking charge of carrot distribution! I looked up and down the line at the food and realized that my stomach had started to growl. Wow—this looked quite tasty! Baked lasagna, carrots, an apple and milk. It’s important for the kids to at least try the main course and each side (even carrots) to complete the well-balanced meal. I knew I had my work cut out for me—carrots? What kid likes carrots? I found myself touting the health benefits of carrots—“Don’t you want to be big and strong? Carrots are good for your eyes!” and finally in desperation, “It would make me really happy if you took just one carrot…” Much to my surprise, I only had to use this line once or twice. Most kids actually WANTED the carrots!

Standing in the assembly line with my stylish hairnet, plastic apron, gloves and looking out over the cafeteria at the chatter, the parents eating dinner with their kids, and the overall joyful ambiance absolutely made my day! I think it’s sometimes easy to get caught up in the day to day tasks of making phone calls, emails, and trying to figure out the infamous data obstacles of our work. But it’s nice to step back every once in awhile to not only observe but to be personally involved in why it is that we make all those phone calls, emails, and pore over the data issues. The smiles on those kids faces validated for me once again why I come to work each day at United Way.