KIDS MEET UP AND EAT UP
WCMA Moblie Unit Rocks at United Way Block Party
Jul 19, 2017
Story and Photos by Meghan McBrady
Page Design by Jonathan Powell
DETROIT — Taking in the sun, screaming and laughter of children as they jumped from various bounce castles, face-painting and game centers, Yolanda Brown roved her eyes over the Parkman Public Library property.
With her granddaughter by her side, working on a craft at the World Class Manufacturing Academy (WCMA) mobile classroom, Brown said she was grateful for the Meet Up and Eat Up block party. Besides putting a “smile on their faces,” it provided the children with nutritious meals, she said.
“The program for this neighborhood is really helping because they usually don’t have anything. It’s getting a lot of kids out that don’t have activities like this – this is so beautiful, it is.”
The WCMA mobile unit, operated by the UAW and FCA US LLC, was abuzz with activity as dozens of kids and family members attended the June 21 event on Detroit’s near northwest side.
One of many similar events around the state, the block party was organized by the United Way of Southeastern Michigan to help ensure that children who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches during the school year also receive free, heathy meals once summer vacation begins.
“During the summertime, a lot of the kids in certain areas who depend on what they get from the schools don’t have food for the summer,” said Earnistine Paige, a WCMA staffer and one of eight block party volunteers from the academy.
“With Meet Up and Eat Up, United Way found a way to make it kind of fun for the kids, plus give them some food.”
According to data released by the Michigan Department of Education this month, 535,000 low-income Michigan children received meals during the school year. However, less than 16 percent (about 85,000 children) ate meals or snacks at approved summer meal sites.
This summer, Parkman Library is serving hot meals from 2-4 p.m. Monday through Friday. “There’s no registration, no ID, no proof of income. Any kids that want to can just walk up and eat,” said Amanda Jaczkowski, Child Nutrition Navigator at Southeastern Michigan’s United Way.
Jaczkowski said the block party was designed to raise awareness of the Michigan Department of Education’s Summer Food Service Program. “It’s just a big party and it’s a way to bring the community together and have a good time.”
WCMA’s mobile classroom was a smash hit with the children. They lined up in droves to work on the smart board, using it to virtually color in a Jeep with the swipe of a finger.
They also played educational games on iPads and fashioned book marks and papier-mâché rainbows at craft tables, giggling as they placed glue-stained fingers on their creations.
Wendy Santure, Training and Development Lead at WCMA, said the mobile unit demonstrates a unique way of supporting the community.
“When we first launched the mobile unit we gave a tour of the academy to the United Way staff and they saw it and, ‘boom, lightbulb,’ let’s use it for a United Way block party,” Santure said.
She said the Meet Up and Eat Up events allow staffers to apply the skills and tools they use on a daily basis at WCMA to offer fun and educational experiences for the children.
“So some of the things that we bring are games and activities that we do with our adult classes, and we are able to modify them to be applicable and appropriate for kids,” she said.
The block parties also are about team-building. “It’s a way for us to get out together that’s supporting the community – everyone here loves doing it and we look forward to it in the summer,” Santure said.
The event at Parkman Library was one of three block parties in Metro Detroit supported by WCMA volunteers this year. The others were at Madison Elementary School/Rosie’s Park in Madison Heights and the Joseph Walker Williams Recreation Center in Detroit.
For her part, Yolanda Brown is happy the United Way and WCMA volunteers came to her neighborhood.
Her granddaughter, Amaria Brown, said her favorite part of the day was racing on one of the bounce castles and coloring on the WCMA’s smart board.
Watching Amaria make a red, pink and blue rainbow at a mobile unit craft table “because they’re my favorite colors,” Brown stressed the importance of providing summer enrichment activities for children.
“I see some kids in my neighborhood and the only place I see them play is on their porch in front of their house,” she said. “I told my neighbors about this [the block party] today, and it’s so wonderful.
“A lot of kids are happy today.”
For more information about United Way’s Meet Up and Eat Up program, visit https://unitedwaysem.org/focus-areas/healthy-kids/meet-up-and-eat-up-toolkit/.