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Hot meal project for youngsters gets out-of-town boost Chicago foundation's grant enables Boys & Girls Clubs to fulfill dream

Thousands of Buffalo-area schoolchildren will soon be getting a hot dinner every day -- even if they aren't getting one at home.

The Buffalo News reported last spring that the Boys & Girls Clubs of Buffalo realized many of its members weren't getting hot meals at home, so the organization set out to build a full-scale kitchen that could feed thousands of boys and girls every week at its sites in Buffalo, Amherst and Cheektowaga.

The organization raised $383,697 last year to build an addition to its Babcock Street clubhouse to house an industrial kitchen where meals could be cooked and distributed. But it still needed about $235,000 to purchase remaining equipment and a specialized vehicle to deliver snacks and hot meals to all of the sites.

In a gesture that proves Buffalo isn't the only City of Good Neighbors, a Chicago-based foundation came to the Boys & Girls Clubs' aid.

The William G. McGowan Charitable Fund gave the Buffalo organization a $235,000 grant allowing the agency to complete plans to provide hot meals to some 8,500 children a week who attend Boys & Girls Clubs after-school programs. Many of the youngsters perhaps wouldn't get a hot dinner otherwise, officials said.

"They funded everything from some of the large stuff to the van and helped us put the finishing touches on the kitchen," said Diane Rowe, executive director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Buffalo. "That closed the gap on the rest of the kitchen," she said. "That allowed us to purchase everything else. Now it's just a matter of waiting and getting that equipment in. Most of it is in."

No one from McGowan was immediately available to comment, but Rowe recounted how the grant came about.

Two of the foundation's trustees were in Buffalo in April, when a story about the agency's plans appeared in The News. The trustees then contacted club officials.

"They asked if they could come see the kitchen. They asked us to put together a proposal. We put one through, and they shepherded it through the foundation for us," Rowe said. "It actually happened very quickly. We had to have the proposal in by April 25, and we heard in July we got the money."

So far, the grant money has paid for eight of 16 sites to get up and running: the Babcock Street location as well as the Masten, Butler Mitchell, John F. Beecher, William C. Baird, Southside, Elmwood Village Charter School and LaSalle clubhouses. About 3,000 meals are served through these sites weekly. Agency officials hope all of the locations will be operating by the holiday season, Rowe said, bringing the total to about 8,500 children served hot dinners per week and making them available to all of the clubs' kids.

They are waiting on equipment to arrive that was ordered during the summer.

The hot dinners project began a few years ago when Boys & Girls Clubs leaders noticed that many of the members who participate in the organization's after-school programs were not getting hot dinners at home. Sometimes it's because their parents can't afford the meal, sometimes it's because they don't have the time to cook.

Of the Boys & Girls Clubs' 8,500 members in Erie County, approximately 85 percent live in poverty, agency leaders said. More than 73 percent of club members in the city live in single-parent households. The families they serve are working-class poor, and 65 percent have parents who are stringing together two or three low-paying jobs just to make ends meet.

Because of the McGowan grant, the club now is able to get a grant from the Kresge Foundation. "We had a $100,000 matching grant, and because we received the gift from McGowan, that allowed us to get our matching funds from Kresge," Rowe said.


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