A traditional lunch begins at noon, and that is when the Lunch Bus rolls into the parking lot beside the Wabash YMCA near U.S. Cellular Field. We set up under a small tree in the middle of the lot, and wait for the children to come running down the street. They come from houses in the neighborhood, a summer school program down the street, and sometimes even the YMCA itself.

Today, some of our first customers were the Willis kids, 5-year-old Brandon and 8-year-old Carlyn, who always sprint down the sidewalk, regardless of whether or not they are late. Brandon usually brings his action figures, and, like many of the other kids, celebrates the days chocolate milk is on the menu. After visiting the Lunch Bus the first few days of summer, they soon invited their neighbors to join them.

Bruce Thomas, age 3, cannot write his name, so his sister Anaya comes to the front of the line to help, then returns to her spot. Bruce takes his lunch at sits behind me, and every once in a while I will get a tug on my shirt. Looking up at me with his big brown eyes, Bruce asks, “Can you do this for me?” and offers me a bag of animal crackers or a package of strawberries. Young Reggenia, his sister, doesn’t know her last name, but does know she loves applesauce. She loves it so much that she dances around with the cup, and about half the container winds up on her shirt by the end of lunch.

A day-care program started stopping by the Lunch Bus with a mini-van full of kids ranging in age from 2 to 13. The oldest is Jake who is very selective in his food choices. Once he sees what the lunch is for the day, he conducts an auction of the things he doesn’t like, such as milk, to trade for what he does, like apples or Baked Doritos. “He’s going to be quite the businessman,” one of my volunteer drivers remarked.

Recently, the Thomas family returned from a trip to visit family. The minute they saw the Lunch Bus they rushed down the sidewalk to tell me they were back. Bruce then looked up at me and asked, “So what’s for lunch?”

Allison Lantero is the City Route Lunch Bus intern at the Greater Chicago Food Depository. The Lunch Bus returned in June, expanding its city and South Suburban routes to include a total of 15 sites across Cook County. Throughout the summer months the program will distribute approximately 25,000 meals reimbursed by the Illinois Board of Education. With the help of Food Depository interns and volunteers, the Lunch Bus visits sites in underserved neighborhoods to deliver healthy food directly to children. The Food Depository identified priority areas for the Lunch Bus based on the Running on Empty study of child hunger, released in 2010.

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