Summer memories are typically made at the beach, on vacation with friends, at barbeques, or out on the water. This summer, one of my lasting memories will be from my visit to the Boys & Girls Club of Martha’s Vineyard. Last week I had the opportunity to stop by the Club during lunchtime.

There, I witnessed over seventy five campers happily feasting on a locally sourced meal of Morning Glory Farm kale, corn and bbq pulled pork, beans, rice, and ‘power balls’! It was not a special occasion or an end of summer celebration. It was just another day at camp, and just another lunch, but it was special.

Their plentiful plates were provided by Island Grown School’s Community Lunch program, which has been serving the Boys & Girls Club campers all summer–in addition to serving regular lunches at the Oak Bluffs Library, the West Tisbury Library, the Family Center, and the Public Schools English Language Learner Summer Program. That’s a lot of lunches, and a lot of work.

As Board President of Island Grown Initiative I care a lot about food equity within my community, and to see this program in action was incredibly inspiring. Originally the program was designed to help children that receive subsidized school lunches during the year be ensured food throughout the summer.

The program has expanded to help guarantee that the greater community could experience healthy, seasonal, whole-foods based meals, while supporting our local and regional farmers, of which we’re fortunate to have so many! The program has successfully filled the void while school’s out of session this summer, and hundreds of additional mouths have been fed because of it.

From July 7 to August 17 a dedicated team of staff and volunteers has been pumping out locally sourced meals to the Island’s children, elderly, and anyone else who’s wanted to enjoy good, free food. It’s the second year IGI has been able to provide these healthy, delicious lunches during the summer, free, and for all ages. That’s good, clean, free food, available to anyone that needs it five days a week–that’s powerful stuff.

This year the program served even more kids, to accommodate the increasing number of schoolchildren on free or reduced priced meal plans. According to Noli Taylor, community food education director for IGI, more than 40 percent of the student population on Martha’s Vineyard are provided with subsidized lunch, a number that has increased steadily over the years. Despite the affluence of many visitors and residents on Martha’s Vineyard, there are also many families here struggling to provide adequate meals for their children.

With the Community Lunch Program parents could be assured their kids had access to a good meal all week, while elders had an opportunity to get out, get fed, and socialize. Through IGI’s work with the Food Equity Network they realized it wasn’t just the little ones who could benefit from a meal with friends–after all, isn’t it something we all look forward to? Lunches included fresh produce from the Island Grown gleaning program, a la carte offerings, and food that was culturally appropriate, like traditional Brazilian cuisine.

Jean Zdankowski, chef from the Oak Bluffs School, busily prepared the lunches day in and day out this summer, utilizing the culinary arts kitchen at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School.

Thanks to an incredible crew of dedicated volunteers, which numbered over 100 throughout the season, the program was a major feat of coordination and a relentless commitment. The volunteers I met were beaming with pride and happy to be be a part of the program, not to mention thrilled to be sharing a lot of laughs with the kids.

While summer winds down so will the program, and back to school the children will go. There they’ll be treated to even more meals provided in part by the work of IGI and Island Grown Schools (IGS). The food service directors in each of the Island’s schools work hard to produce school lunches throughout the year, in partnership with IGS and local farms, to offer delicious, nutritious, healthy meals. These programs serve as a constant reminder of the commitment of our community to ensure we have healthy kids eating healthy food–paving the way for a healthier future for Martha’s Vineyard.