Seven-year-old Isabella Geer picked the seeds out of the chunk of watermelon in her bowl.
“The black ones you can’t eat — only the white ones,” she explained before taking a bite.
Isabella was having her second helping of breakfast at the Summer Food Service Program at First Presbyterian Church in Morrilton.
Her sister, Alexis Cummings, 12, was with her. Alexis said their mother had gone to visit their father in the hospital, and an older brother was caring for them.
The meal, which included a paper sack with snacks to take home, would help their mother, Alexis said.
Isabella said her favorite part of the program is, “We get to have a bunch of stuff to eat.”
The volunteers, some from other denominations, cook and serve breakfast from 8:30-10 a.m. Monday through Friday at the church, 105 W. Church St.
On Monday, volunteers served scrambled eggs, waffles, muffins, sausage, bacon, fresh fruit, cereal, juices and milk.
Church member and volunteer Michelle Cheek said a farmer on Petit Jean Mountain brings fresh produce from a cooperative. Cheek said she lives close to the church, so she walks over at least once a week to cook and serve breakfast.
The program was started to fill a gap during the summer.
The Rev. Guy Delaney, pastor of First Presbyterian Church, said a schoolteacher told him that during the summer, students would lose their free breakfast provided at school.
Delaney said he asked members of the church’s governing body if they were interested in providing the federal program, and they were. He said John Hogan and Charles Spivey were the two members who got it going.
“I don’t do much,” Hogan said.
Ben Queen, who was siting beside Hogan, said, “Yes, he does. He put it all together.”
“It’s picking up real well,” Hogan said.
Monday was the 21st day of the program, and Hogan said as of Friday, 624 people had been fed. Hogan said 61 was the most fed in one day.
“The volunteerism has just been outstanding,” he said, adding that 14 volunteers were on hand Monday.
Sue Spivey said Hogan felt strongly about filling the need for Morrilton’s children.
“He said, ‘If we don’t get one penny from the government, we’re going to do this,” she said.
“We have a large percentage of our children in our school district who receive free or reduced-cost lunches,” she said. “It’s targeted to children, of course, but no one is turned away.”
Spivey, a member of First Presbyterian Church, said several members attended a workshop in May to learn about the feeding program.
“We are subsidized for some of the cost for feeding. Right now, we’re just doing it through donations,” she said. “[Members of] other churches in the community have been very instrumental — they come and work.”
She said her husband, Charles, is in charge of the kitchen crew.
The program, held at various locations throughout the state, is designed to provide just one serving of the offerings, but Delaney said they don’t limit the amount of food per child.
“We had a couple of little boys; they just kept eating. They were so hungry when they got here. One of them had three helpings of eggs,” Delaney said.
As one little boy came in, he was greeted by volunteers in the serving line.
“Finally! We’ve been waiting on you,” a volunteer said. The little boy said his aunt dropped him off.
Zachary Hill, 7, who was eating sausage, bacon and eggs, said, “Grandma brought me; she went to the bank.” He said that when he doesn’t eat at the church, she cooks breakfast for him.
His favorite part of the program is “the drinks of it and snack packs,” he said, grinning.
Sue Spivey said each child is sent home with snacks in a paper sack.
“The snacks include a piece of fruit, the little Lunchables, Kool-Aid Jammers or Capri Sun, and a cheese stick,” she said.
“We sack that up, and we encourage them, if they’ve got siblings at home, take one, and they do,” Spivey said.
Brock Swain and Aden Umphres rode their bicycles to the church for breakfast.
“It’s actually really good; I like the food,” Brock said.
His sister, Sydney Cummings, 16, was there, too.
“I come here because it’s fun, and it’s good for the kids. I come for Brock. It’s a variety, instead of eating at home,” she said.
“It’s fun doing it here because there’s friends, and everybody comes,” Aden said. He said he lives in New Mexico and was in Morrilton visiting his father.
“I hardly have anything at my house — I eat it all,” he said.
Feeding-program volunteers said members of the Morrilton High School football team come for breakfast every morning and sometimes bring their brothers and sisters.
On Monday, 30 children and two adults were fed.
“It’s been a lot of work, especially on the men of our church,” Spivey said.
Charles Spivey, who was making hash browns on Monday, said he enjoys being involved in the program.
“Why not? I’m retired, and I just find it rewarding,” he said. “We’re doing it 51 days; five days a week.”
“It’s really just a service,” Sue Spivey said. “This is what we’re all about, and it makes us feel good that we can do this.”
Delaney said the Summer Food Service Program goes along with the church’s mission statement: “To do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God.”
“When we get to heaven, if there are any questions, they’re not going to ask us to recite the Apostles’ Creed. They’re going to ask us how we lived out our faith,” he said.
The program will continue through Aug. 15.
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.