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Former cook helps to feed hungry children

“I can’t think of any issue that is more important than working to see that no schoolchild in this world goes hungry.”

— Actress Drew Barrymore

The problem of starving children isn’t just in foreign countries or in the impoverished neighborhoods of the nation’s largest cities.

Hungry children can be found in Southern Nevada, too, and several dedicated members of a couple of local churches are doing what they can during the summer to face the ongoing problem.

When school is in session, children in need can qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, but during the summer recess that option disappears.

Greater Evergreen Missionary Baptist Church and Reformation Lutheran Church are attempting to bridge the gap.

In the case of Greater Evergreen Missionary Baptist Church, 1915 Lexington St., the Rev. Welton T. Smith III called on usher Henry Boykin when it became evident that many neighborhood children needed help.

Boykin, who moved to Las Vegas in 1963 after being raised in Louisiana, is a former cook and member of the Culinary Union who over the years has worked at hotel-casinos such as the Desert Inn and the old International, which is now the Westgate Las Vegas.

Although the initial donation of luncheons started slowly, word began to spread quickly. The second day saw 25 children reaching out for help, and two days later 30 children were the recipients and 41 gathered on the fourth day.

Boykin can see that the number will probably reach 75 per day by the time the summer reaches August. He said the need rose more once Kelly Middle School recessed for the summer.

“There are a lot of kids that need help out there,” Boykin said. “We visited Three Square food bank for guidance and found the help we needed.”

Three Square, 4190 N. Pecos Road, was established in 2007 to help fight hunger in the valley, especially the dramatically increased needs of students during the summer months. Three Square has programs benefiting more than 1,300 partner sites in Southern Nevada with food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, after-school programs and programs for senior citizens, to name a few of its many avenues. A list of all of its summer meal sites is available at www.threesquare.org.

To Boykin and fellow members of Greater Evergreen Missionary Baptist Church, reaching out to help today’s youth is important because it satisfies the need for nourishment and serves as an invitation for the recipients to attend church.

“There’s no question that church is important for everyone and especially our youth,” Boykin, 70, said. “When we reach out to them to offer help through our teamwork with Three Square, we’re also offering them a safe haven. Once a child attends church, they’ll never forget the experience.”

Boykin said the church realized helping children becomes more important than ever when school is out.

“So many kids don’t get any food after school is done for the year,” Boykin said. “We often don’t know why this is the case, but we do know we have a job to do in making sure they’re provided meals and kept off the streets. They don’t have to worry about where their next meal is going to come from.”

Boxed meals served at the church include items such as chicken nuggets, mixed green salads with carrots, cucumbers and Italian dressing, along with graham crackers, a fresh pear and milk.

The church offers the free lunch from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays and Boykin said all children who show up will be served.

At Reformation Lutheran Church, 580 E. St. Louis Ave., the Rev. Jason Adams, senior pastor, saw a growing need.

“We started with five that showed up the first day. On June 17, we had 16,” said Adams, a 37-year-old native of south Florida who was in Las Vegas from 2004 to 2010 and returned only recently from Iowa where he was attending seminary.

“The need is only growing, especially during the summertime,” Adams said. “When summer school gets out at noon, that’s when they show up. It’s good to know that we can provide a safe environment. A lot of the time we are playing music and doing puzzles, so the kids feel like they are being entertained.

“This is for anyone under the age of 18.”

The church is partnering with the Culinary Academy of Las Vegas and The Center for the food program. Free meals are provided each Tuesday and Thursday beginning at 11:30 a.m. until 1 p.m. through August.

“Part of what we want to do is engage in our neighboring community,” Adams explained. “It’s an opportunity to reach out to our neighbors. This is the beginning of revitalized ministry at Reformation and in downtown Las Vegas.

“I’m the new guy in town and together we’re making a difference.”

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