BGC of Inland Valley offers free meals for youth

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Grab and go meals distributed by the Boys & Girls Clubs of Inland Valley are packaged to appeal to children. Valley News/Linda Burch photo

The Boys & Girls Clubs of Inland Valley have been void of the laughter and chatter of children since the coronavirus pandemic shutdown March 13; however, it wasn’t long before the nonprofit found a way to connect to the youths through its grab and go meals program.

The organization has been providing meals for youths 18 and younger at its Menifee, Perris and Quail Valley clubhouses. Children do not need to be members of the Boys & Girls Club to participate.

Sam Handley, left, and Amaris Gonzalez smile behind their masks while showing toothbrush kits they gave away at the Menifee Clubhouse of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Inland Valley. Gonzalez is with the North County Health Services who provided and helped distribute kits at all three clubhouses. Valley News/Linda Burch photo

The club receives the meals from The Lighthouse, a food sponsor from a church based in Los Angeles, to distribute as part of the Child and Adult Care Food Program, and meals are prepared at the clubhouses for the grab and go program. Julia Burch, assistant director of development for the organization, said about 1,500 meals per week are being distributed at its three clubhouses.

“We choose meals from a pre-fixed menu,” Burch said. “These are the same meals that kids have at the site during our regular after-school program and during camp. We have always provided our club kids with a snack and dinner while they are at the club. We did have to modify it when we closed due to COVID-19 so that we could provide it as a grab and go service instead.”

She said one of the biggest challenges has been not being able to serve members in its normal capacity. Before COVID-19, they served 375 children per day on-site. For the grab and go program, executive director John Whann receives all of the food at the sites and distributes meals with the help of many volunteers such as Sam Handley, unit director of the Menifee Clubhouse, and Susana Arevalo, site director of the Perris Clubhouse, club parents, board members and the Menifee Rotary Club. The meal program is expected to continue through summer until school resumes in mid-August. The Perris Clubhouse reopened June 29 with social distancing and other safety protocols in place.

Boys & Girls Clubs of Inland Valley grab and go meals are ready to be distributed. Valley News/Linda Burch photo

“We have been communicating with families through our Facebook page, and we love seeing our members that come for the food program,” Burch said.

With the loss of more than 40 field trips, 80 special events which usually included such things as magic shows, petting zoos, pony rides and bubble parties, plus providing lunch and dinner for club kids, the organization has also suffered a loss of revenue.

“We are running our COVID-19 Relief Fund right now to raise funds for the club while we are closed. Due to canceled programs and events, we are losing about $15,000 per week in revenue,” Burch said. “As part of that fundraiser, businesses or individuals can sponsor the grab and go program for $50 for the week. With this sponsorship, we will distribute their flyer in every grab and go meal bag and give them a shoutout on social media.”

Burch said the sponsorship opportunity is a great way for businesses and individuals to show their support for the community. While $50 per week does not come close to covering the cost of the meal program, it will provide some financial relief for the club.

John Whann, executive director of Boys & Girls Clubs of Inland Valley, Menifee Mayor Bill Zimmerman and Jeff Katz, general manager of Buffalo Wild Wings, deliver grab and go meals to families that drove through the Menifee Clubhouse. Valley News/Linda Burch photo

“We are also accepting donations to our club through our website and these donations will go toward our programs when we reopen,” Burch said. “We will have increased costs for cleaning and sanitation supplies and increased staffing costs with smaller staff to youth ratios at that time.”

The grab and go meal program is available 2:30-3:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, at the Quail Valley Clubhouse, 23890 La Bertha, in Menifee and from 4:30-5:30 p.m. at the Menifee Clubhouse, 26301 Garbani Road, in Menifee and the Perris Clubhouse, 904 South D St., in Perris.

Diane A Rhodes can be reached by email at valleystaff@reedermedia.com.