Oshkosh churches’ project fills gap in lunch programs

By Jaye Alderson | For The Compass | August 10, 2016

Most Blessed Sacrament Parish women assist with summer program for local low-income children

OSHKOSH — When Candice Luebke read about a summer program offered by a Lutheran parish in town, it caught her eye.

Luebke, a member of the Women’s Group at Most Blessed Sacrament Parish, learned of a summer lunch program for marginalized children held at Christ Lutheran Church, just across the street from city hall downtown. During June and July, children from many two-parent, “working poor” households benefit from daily lunches offered by the Oshkosh Area School District during summer school periods. However, Lueke learned, that meal opportunity ends when the school district suspends its free and reduced lunches for August.

Carlene Luebke, left, LeAnne Greene, and Carol Hildman are Most Blessed Sacrament Parish memebers taking part in a free summer lunch program for low-income children in Oshkosh. The program was started by Christ Lutheran Church and is gaining volunteers from other city churches. (Jeannette Merten | For The Compass)
Carlene Luebke, left, LeAnne Greene, and Carol Hildman are Most Blessed Sacrament Parish members taking part in a free summer lunch program for low-income children in Oshkosh. The program was started by Christ Lutheran Church and is gaining volunteers from other city churches. (Jeannette Merten | For The Compass)

Therefore, Christ Lutheran offers free lunches during August to those children who need meals. Carol Nimke, a member of Christ Lutheran, began the program three years ago. Money had been set aside for Vacation Bible School, but she said her husband, Doug, noted that not many children had been participating in recent years.

He noted a different urgent need, and shared it with his wife.

“There are children who are going to go hungry in Oshkosh in August,” Carol said Doug told her. Thus, the Bible school funds were diverted to start the August lunch program.

“It’s God in action,” Nimke said. “Instead of teaching the children about Jesus through Vacation Bible School, we are showing them about Jesus and his love.”

This year, Nimke invited members of Oshkosh churches of all denominations to collaborate to make the program ecumenical. Members of Most Blessed Sacrament responded, along with members of three other Lutheran churches: Calvary Lutheran, All Saints Lutheran and Our Savior Lutheran.

Several women from Most Blessed Sacrament are helping this summer. They work in the kitchen and dining area, serve lunches and pack food bags for dinners and breakfasts that children can take home. Luebke said they hope for some male volunteers to join them, as well, to provide positive role models for the children.

“I thought this would be something really nice and very important for our parish to consider,” Luebke said. “There is hunger in the world, and hunger is so local. It’s something we can so easily overlook, especially with children who have that burden. It’s our Gospel initiative to serve the poor and the vulnerable. This is serving our neighbors in our neighborhood. Our parish encourages gospel living and does a lot of things gospel-based.”

Carlene Luebke, Candice’s sister-in-law and another member of Most Blessed Sacrament’s group, said, “It’s important for us to evangelize so the kids know we’re out there. There’s a need out there for kids to have a meal, and we want to fill it.”

Nimke said the new ecumenical nature of the program is enriching.

“Women of all faiths can get together on a project,” she said. “We work side-by-side to get to know each other, get to know each other’s fellowship. Our main goal is showing our love of God in helping others. I may pray the Lord’s Prayer. At one of our meeting, the ladies of Most Blessed Sacrament prayed the Hail Mary. It was a beautiful thing. We do a prayer and ask for God’s guidance. It’s a neat thing, and we feel God’s presence.”

Extra support for the program has come through donations and items sold at the Oshkosh Farmers Market.

They also have had divine intervention. The first year, Nimke said, money was very limited and they had no funds to buy milk. She gave a prayer and, 10 minutes later, received a call about an over-delivery of milk.

“We received two cases of milk that made it through the whole summer,” she said.

The program has made big differences for families participating in it and for herself, Nimke said.

“It’s my lifeline. The program has enriched my life to see children year after year come back and letting them know that we care.”

About 25 to 30 children a day take part in the program, which is for children under the age of 18. Adults are served at the nearby Salvation Army.

One father brings in his five children, some with special needs, while his wife works first shift and he works third shift.

A mother brings in children while their father studies for his GED.

“They are the working poor,” Nimke said. “They are trying so hard, and this program helps them out in the summer months.”

Once, while working at the Farmers Market, a young boy excitedly pointed at Christ Lutheran’s booth and exclaimed: “Mommy, that’s the church that feeds us!”

When a child asked about taking some toilet paper home so they could have some there, program volunteers started collecting toilet paper, tissues and sanitary wipes.

Another child came in without proper underclothing, so they are also collecting children’s clothing to distribute.

This year, Most Blessed Sacrament added a collection of hygiene products to put in bags that the children can take home at the end of the program; and new or used children’s clothing for those who need them for school.

“It’s not just feeding the children,” Nimke said. “It’s evolved into this outreach, far more than we ever anticipated. It’s such a neat thing to see. It’s exciting just seeing these kids fed, the fellowship, the outpouring of love for these kids.”

Nimke said the program’s only major problem has been the logistics of getting children to the church site downtown from other areas of the city. Older children take their bikes, but younger children cannot.

“Next year, we’re trying to get this out and around the city,” Nimke said. “The members of the other churches are going to go into their own neighborhoods.”

The members of Most Blessed Sacrament plan to establish a satellite site at Most Blessed Sacrament-St. Mary worship site.

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