WINCHESTER — Six-year-old Ava doesn't like "nasagna," so she was a little reluctant to eat the penne pasta with Bolognese sauce served to her on Wednesday at the Kids Clubs of Northern Shenandoah Valley.
"Just try it!" said Ava's 8-year-old friend, Michael, as he finished his first plate and went off in search of seconds.
Michael and Ava were among 65 elementary-age children who enjoyed a tasty hot lunch on Wednesday courtesy of the members of Winchester Country Club at 1300 Senseny Road.
Club member Gerry Caffrey came up with the idea of converting club members' good fortunes into much-needed meals for local children and adults.
"Winchester Country Club is made up of a lot of people who care about the community," Caffrey said. "The club members got through COVID pretty unscathed, and we're still doing pretty well, so it was time for us to help the community because there are a lot of shelters, charitable operations that didn't come through it so well."
Barbara Hineline, the director of food and beverage at Winchester Country Club, said members were asked to donate $35 each to buy the items needed to prepare one or more healthy meals.
"Some members bought 10 of them, some members bought 20, some bought one," Hineline said.
"They came through big," Caffrey added.
The meals are prepared in the country club's kitchen, Hineline said, then delivered to whatever agency is being helped that day.
The first free lunches provided by Caffrey's assistance program, known as Share a Meal, were served at noon Wednesday at Kids Clubs of Northern Shenandoah Valley, a nonprofit organization at 2400 Roosevelt Blvd. in Winchester that provides enrichment, recreational and educational programs to children from low- and moderate-income families in Winchester, Frederick County and Clarke County.
Kids Clubs Executive Director Heather Forman said her organization provides free breakfasts and lunches to the students who report to Kids Clubs on days when they aren't attending classes in brick-and-mortar school buildings. That can get expensive, especially with area schools reducing the number of in-person instruction days due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
"It's an additional expense we didn't budget for when school started in the fall, just like most other businesses didn't factor COVID-19 into their budgets," Forman said. "But we knew [many] kids were receiving free breakfasts and lunches on normal school days, so we wanted to do that as well. ... Over 70% of the kids who attend the club are living in poverty, so it's hard for many of them to pack a lunch."
Forman said she requested help from area businesses who could help Kids Clubs come up with extra meals.
Hineline said the Share a Meal program pledged to serve three lunches — a total of 210 meals — at Kids Clubs. The first was on Wednesday, and the remaining two will be offered on the first Wednesdays of the next two months.
"Wednesday seems to be their busiest day because there's no school," Hineline said, a reference to Wednesdays being virtual, at-home learning days for students in the Winchester and Frederick County public school systems.
She said the Share a Meal program will also serve two dinners — a total of 200 meals — at the Winchester Rescue Mission homeless shelter on North Cameron Street, plus a total of 100 boxed lunches for the region's first responders.
"We'll gear the menus to the recipients," Hineline said. "Everything is fresh and homemade."
The young diners on Wednesday seemed very pleased with the penne pasta.
"I had a girl at the end of the table who said, 'It's so good, but don't tell my mom because it's better than hers,'" Forman said with a laugh.
Another girl, 6-year-old Marilyn, shouted for everyone to hear: "I love pasta! And pizza! And ice cream!"