The Salvation Army's "Feed The Kids" program kicked off Wednesday for the 15th year, handing out free lunches to La Crosse area kids.
Feed The Kids began in 2004 and provides 15,000 free lunches each summer. Volunteers take 300 bag lunches made every morning at the Salvation Army and distribute them at 10 different locations.
"It helps when the school lunch program goes off for the summer," said volunteer Tom Claflin, who began his deliveries at Weigent Park Wednesday. "I firmly believe that this is one of the good meals these kids may get in a day."
Claflin has been volunteering with Feed The Kids for eight years.
"I like to hang around these kids and and talk to them and watch them grow up," he said. "That's what keeps me coming back."
Joining Claflin was Dianne Ruetten for her first time volunteering, though for her it's a familiar atmosphere.
"I used to be a teacher's aide, I worked with kids so you never get that out of your system," Ruetten said. "So seeing that they're smiling, they're eating, they're playing, they're having fun, this is a good safe thing for them."
It's a bittersweet feeling, they said, knowing so many are in need, but the work still brings a smile to their faces.
"Everybody says oh it's rewarding and it is just to see the kids," Ruetten said.
"The reward's always greater than the effort you put into it," Claflin said. "Pay back is always on the positive side."
The program relies on donations from the public and what they are looking for right now are brown paper bags, bread, juice boxes and snack items. Those can be dropped off at the Salvation Army offices at 223 North 8th street in La Crosse. You can get a full list of needed items, or learn how to volunteer at the Salvation Army's website.
Feed The Kids runs Monday through Friday until August 30 at these locations and times:
-YMCA La Crosse @ 11am
-Weigent Park @ 11:10am
-Pineview Mobile Home Park @ 11:30am
-Brookview Mobile Home Park @ 11:45am
-Golden Valley Home Park @ 12pm
-Schuh Mullen Boys and Girls Club @ 12pm
-Huber Court @ 12:15pm
-Mathy Boys and Girls Club @ 12:30pm
-Poage Park @ 12:40pm
-Powell Park @ 12:50pm
Meals are provided to children at no cost to them or their families. There is no registration or application process to receive meals.