Airmen hand out free lunches to Schenectady youth
By Tech. Sgt. Catharine Schmidt, 109th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
/ Published July 25, 2014
STRATTON AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, New York -- Children at Steinmetz Park in Schenectady waited in line anxiously for lunch to be served. This week, the children not only got a free lunch, but they also got to meet Airmen from the 109th Airlift Wing. The Airmen had been there all week serving lunch as part of the Schenectady Inner City Ministry's Free Summer Lunch Program.
This year is the ministry's 20th year offering free lunches to children throughout the entire city of Schenectady. About 30 Airmen volunteered their time July 20-25 to help out once again.
Many of the volunteers who came out throughout the week agreed that the program was very important for the youth in Schenectady.
"This may be the only meal some of the kids get each day," said Senior Master Sgt. Deborah Gardner, 109th Logistics Readiness Squadron, who has been volunteering for the program for years.
The ministry has 25 sites they provide lunches at during the summer, with additional mobile sites throughout the city.
"Schenectady City School District provides free lunches during the school year, and this program allows the kids to continue to receive those free meals," said Erin Thiessen, site supervisor for the lunch program at Steinmetz.
"I like seeing what a difference this makes for the kids," Gardner said. "They are always happy to see us. Being that I have been doing this for a few years has given me the opportunity to see the kids get older. Over the years I have seen many of the same kids at the Summer Lunch Program that I do during the Yates Reading Program. You get a look at lives that you would otherwise not see. It gives me an appreciation for what I have and a sense of civic pride."
Not only do the children benefit from the free lunches, but they also get to meet the Airmen and see that the military is there to help.
"(The children) are very excited about having the military here," Thiessen said. "And they behave a lot better when they are here, too."
"In my experience of walking about the community in uniform, a lot of people have preconceived notions of what the military actually does, especially kids," said Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Hayes, 109th Airlift Wing staff. "I thought this would be a great opportunity to support the community by interacting with some local kids. I still remember when the fire department showed up to have lunch with us in preschool -- I'm hoping this will stick with them forever as well."
"This is a good opportunity to help the community and show them that we are here for them," said Tech. Sgt. Sara Eldred, 139th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron.
Gardner said it's very important for the 109th AW to have a presence in the surrounding communities.
"I think there is a stereotype most civilians have that anyone in uniform is regular military that goes away to war," Gardner said. "Many do not know that the National Guard is here, first and foremost, for the state, the counties, the towns and villages. The local community will better learn and know what we do through contact with 109th members. With military downsizing and bases being closed, the community needs to have a positive opinion of us. The best way for that is through personal interaction."
Capt. Ashley FitzGibbon, 109th AW community manager, said the Airmen here are always more than willing to help out with community events.
"For a weeklong event, we had no problem finding volunteers to support this important program every day," said FitzGibbon. "I'd like to thank the volunteers and the base for their continued support for all the community events that we participate in."