CUYAHOGA FALLS — While the Pilgrim United Church of Christ in Cuyahoga Falls has offered a community meal every second Saturday from September through May, this summer they started offering lunch to anyone wishing to drop by three days a week.

Thanks to a $2,000 grant, volunteers at Pilgrim United offer the lunches on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from noon to 1 p.m. at the church.

"We have an existing program for September through May, on every second Saturday," said Crystal Wagner, one of the coordinators of the meals and the cook. "It’s open to anyone who wants to have lunch with us."

Initially the church was aiming to serve children but, with the grantor’s permission, the church is now offering the lunch to anyone wanting a lunch. Part of the reason, Wagner said, is the slow start the program has seen. On the first day, volunteers made 40 lunches, and no one came. The second time, Wagner said three people came out and the third day, three adults and three children came.

On the third day, the volunteers had prepared 30 meals, and that day’s lunch included a choice of a turkey or ham sandwich, fresh vegetables, apple sauce, a chocolate chip cookie and juice. Other beverages also were available.

The extra lunches do not go to waste, Wagner said.

"We cook it here, and we take some to the Sutliff buildings," Wagner said, referring to the apartment complexes on Second Street.

The food programs offered through Pilgrim United are "opportunities to volunteer for high schoolers," Wagner said.

"All of my high schoolers now know how to make cornbread," Wagner said.

Even when the volunteer hours for school are completed, Wagner said students frequently come back to continue helping.

"We had one who came his freshman year to get volunteer credit," Wagner said. "He continued to come back in high school and even the first year of college.

The church’s program offering meals September through May started in 2002.

Joyce Carter and her husband became involved in 2004 as volunteers; Carter’s husband had been the chief cook.

Wager said she was recruited to cook early on.

"On my first Saturday," her husband was in a really bad accident on Broad (Boulevard), Wagner said. "He was in the hospital for about four months. So, I was asked to cook. I did spaghetti, because how can you mess that up? I’m not a great cook."

"She’s a fantastic cook," Carter said.

"Well, I wasn’t when I first started," Wagner said.

The church also plans to construct a Blessings Box on its property.

"It will be different than most Blessings Boxes," Wagner said. "Half of it will be for food, the other half for things that you can’t get with food stamps, such as toilet paper."

Wagner said the $2,000 grant for the summer program can be renewed two additional years "if things work out."

"When we started in ’04, it took a while catch on," Carter said. "Now it’s thriving."

Wagner said that she talked to volunteers with Good Neighbors, who noticed a drop-off in people it helps when it is open. "They said they usually get 40 people in," Wagner said. "Now, it’s about half that."

Wagner said that what Pilgrim offers is not just about free food, but a chance to socialize.

"They sit for hours and talk," Carter said.

"We run from noon to 1, but many will stay around to talk," Wagner added. "We usually shoo the last ones out around 2."

There are no forms or background checks, Wagner said.

"I saw this all the time," when she was at a senior residence, Wagner said. "They might make $20 a month too much to qualify for assistance."

Donations and clergy help with obtaining the meals.

Wagner said she and others felt there was a program needed for kids.

"It’s still for the kids, but anyone who needs a lunch can come," Wagner said. "They can eat it here, or they can take the lunch with them."

Bulldog Boxes

Bulldog Boxes, the summer program of the Bulldog Bags, is returning for its second year to give out boxes of food once a month in June, July and August.

Bulldog Boxes started in June 2018 to help the families of children eligible for the Free and Reduced Meal Program in the Stow-Munroe Falls City School District, according to information from the non-profit organization’s website.

Bulldog Boxes are one per household, and families must pre-register to receive a Bulldog Box. The boxes include 10 meals/snacks in family-size portions.

This summer, there will be two pick-up options each month: either Friday evening or Saturday morning at the First Christian Church, 3493 Darrow Road in Stow. Pick-up will take place at the lower level door; entrance off of Route 59.

For details on Bulldog Boxes or Bulldog Bags, visit www.bulldogbags.org or email bulldogbags44224@gmail.com.

USDA summer program

The USDA has several sites in the Akron area that are offering lunch, or breakfast and lunch.

Two places include Honey Locust, 3299 Prange Drive in Cuyahoga Falls; and Pinewood, 8788 Ray Court in Twinsburg. The meals are offered through Aug. 16 to children up to age 18.

Lisa Boring, the administrator of the program, said that the Cuyahoga Falls location serves lunch, and the Twinsburg location serves both breakfast and lunch. The meal "changes every day," but breakfasts include a grain item, a milk item and fruit. Lunch includes a grain, a meat, and two different fruits or vegetables.

So far, Boring said, "only a handful of kids" have come to the Cuyahoga Falls location. The location in Twinsburg has "about 40 to 45 kids per day."

For details on these and other area food locations, visit http://education.ohio.gov online or call 866-3-HUNGRY.

Reporter April Helms can be reached at 330-541-9423, ahelms@recordpub.com, or @AprilKHelms_RPC