GREENFIELD – It’s not hard to be a superhero. All you need is some lunch meat or a loaf of bread.
The Kenneth Butler Memorial Soup Kitchen in Greenfield is seeking Sack Lunch Superheroes to donate food supplies for the sack lunch distribution program.
The program was launched April 14 to help keep up with the demand for sack lunches, which are handed out on Fridays to provide food to those in need through the weekends.
To spread awareness as well as gratitude, those who donate sack lunch essentials will be recognized on the soup kitchen’s social media as Sack Lunch Superheroes each week.
“The sack lunch program is another vital piece of our mission to provide food to our patrons,” said Jill Ebbert, the soup kitchen’s executive director. “While it is not the hot, nutritious meal they receive here throughout the week, it is a good supplement for the weekend.”
The sack lunch program makes up about 10 percent of all meals served at the kitchen each week. The kitchen typically serves 2,000 to 2,300 hot meals each month, between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. and 5-7 p.m. weekdays.
Unfortunately, lunches to-go became the norm at the soup kitchen for many months after the COVID pandemic forced Ebbert to close its doors.
Patrons would stand out on the sidewalk to receive hot meals to go, in addition to the sack lunches provided for the weekends.
The kitchen’s reopening phase has been going on for about a month, but Ebbert said there are many pieces of the puzzle to put together.
“The biggest piece is rebuilding our volunteer base because a lot more people are needed when the dining room is open,” she said.
“COVID has taken away a lot of our volunteers and all but one of our steady dishwashers, which means we may have to use the carry-out supplies even when the patrons are eating in here. Storage is another big issue for the carry-out supplies. They have to be moved from the dining room, where they have been for the last two years,” said Ebbert.
The longtime director said it was heartbreaking to close down the kitchen for so long since the camaraderie and personal contact between patrons and staff is just as essential as the meals served there.
“It’s very important to us to nourish (our patrons) socially and emotionally as well as physically,” she said. “We look forward to serving our people inside as quickly as we get everything done because we miss them and they miss each other, and us.”
Patrons no doubt miss the warm hugs and warm meals when the kitchen is closed on the weekends, which is why Ebbert is so devoted to make sure enough donations are coming in to sustain the sack lunch program.
“People can help the most by donating the needed food for the program,” said Ebbert. “For those who are old enough, think back to the sack lunches you took to school as a child.”
Each sack lunch includes a sandwich, chips, fresh fruit, pudding, jello or fruit cups, individual cereals, pop tarts, granola bars, cookies and cheese or peanut butter crackers.
“In the wintertime, we add oatmeal packets, hot chocolate mixes and water-based pop-top soups,” Ebbert said.
The sacks are assembled on Thursdays, but the sandwiches are made by a team of three volunteers on Friday mornings.
The sack lunches are distributed at the soup kitchen during the lunch and dinner hours, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 5-7 p.m.
Recipients sign up for the sack lunches throughout the week, so the kitchen staff and volunteers know how many to prepare. Typically, 40 to 45 sack lunches are handed out each week, or 160 each month.
Hunger doesn’t stop on the weekends, said Ebbert, and Sack Lunch Superheroes can make sure that those needs are met.