John Lee said the nonprofit started in 2009 after he read an article in the Dayton Daily News about the St. Vincent de Paul Gateway for Women & Children Shelter having a need for bagged lunches to help support families around the Thanksgiving holidays and the days after.
“I brought this issue to my family to see if they were interested in doing 50 bagged lunches. Then, my son Jackson (5 at the time) and my daughter Katie (8 then), along with my wife, decided the day before Thanksgiving was a great day to assemble these lunches,” he said.
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They decorated every bag, used food out of their own pantry, and the kids donated their Halloween candy for the effort.
“We assembled 50 lunches, including PB&J sandwiches. We drove them down that day to St. Vincent de Paul to deliver,” John Lee said.
The next year they double the effort to 100 lunches, and the following year started getting family and friends involved to donate and assemble 150 lunches, John Lee said.
In 2015, the Lees increased the goal to 660 lunches and had to move the assembly out of their house. They searched several sites for a new assembly area.
“Finally … we joined partnership with a local church who was willing to give non-parish groups an opportunity to use their church to help the community,” John said.
That sparked John and Niki Lee’s relationship with the Living Hope Church in Centerville, and meeting Pastor Jon Gibson.
The numbers kept growing too: 1,600 lunches in 2016, and more than 3,000 in 2018.
A move to non-perishable items is pushing that number to more than 5,000 lunches, the Lees explained.
“Every box lunch is decorated for the holidays with motivational sayings and pictures made by senior citizen centers and elementary school students in Centerville.”
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In the beginning, the effort to provide for others was all about family, friends, co-workers and neighbors helping out. Just a Little Lunch has grown to become a 501 (c) 3 corporation with 11 board members, John Lee said.
Many other organizations help.
Three things keep motivating the Just a Little Lunch group.
“Teaching young adults in our community to learn how to volunteer at an early age. Last year, we had over 330 volunteers with more than half under the age of 18,” John Lee said. “Knowing that our box lunches are assisting children and adults from Trotwood to Xenia to Lebanon and Middletown, we are touching the lives of 5,000 people in one day in the Miami Valley.”
The third motivating factor is the stories that actually warm their hearts each year.
“The hugs and smiles when we deliver these box lunches and knowing there is love in every lunch,” John Lee said.
More than 300 volunteers have registered for this year’s event, and those seeking to help can go to www.justalittlelunch.com.
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