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Kids get free lunch for holidays

December 30, 2008|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- Signs of a dismal economy continue to surface every day, but residents and businesses are rallying behind one Martinsburg nonprofit organization's effort to serve less fortunate children a hot meal during the holidays.

"These kids are the first ones to feel it," said Boys & Girls Club volunteer Tracie Welch while youngsters took advantage of a free lunch program kicked off last week at 108 W. John St. in Martinsburg.

Today, Wednesday and Friday, a free lunch will be served from noon to 1 p.m. to youngsters age 18 and younger -- regardless if they are club members.

Though normally open during the holiday season, Martinsburg unit director Stacie Rohn said the club's board decided to close this year because of a budget crunch, which included the loss of a $20,000 Department of Justice Race Against Drugs grant.

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Alarmed by the club's shortfall, Welch said earlier this month she posted a plea for help on Facebook and sent e-mails to rally financial support and donations so at least lunch could be served at the club, which remains otherwise closed until Jan. 5.

Chic-Fil-A and Shenandoah's Pride contributed to Monday's meal, which included milk, a chicken sandwich, fruit and salad.

"It's been really nice to see that the community has rallied behind the club," Rohn said.

A teacher at South Martinsburg Middle School, Welch said she had noticed for months that children there were not eating right at lunchtime

One day, she said she found one child only had "a handful of pretzels, a couple cookies and a juice box" and subsequently learned the family was strapped financially and were about to lose their home due to foreclosure.

"The thought of a hungry child in our society is beyond reprehensible," Welch said.

While pleased with the support of volunteers and contributions to make the free lunch program possible, Rohn said the club will likely have to make an effort in 2009 to cultivate small donors to help sustain operations in the future, given the economic downturn.

"We're looking ahead and saying what are we going to do here?" Rohn said.

Individuals interested in the free lunch program can contact Welch at abc.welch@gmail.com or 304-263-2696.

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