Last week, amid the organized chaos that is lunch service at Youth World Learning Center each summer day, the 100,000th free meal was served there by the Dallas ISD Summer Food Program.
That number was celebrated on Monday, July 18, by staff, students, volunteers and partners at the center, which serves at-risk children by offering supplemental education resources, economic relief community support and more.
Executive Director Darla Shirley said she almost can’t believe how far the center has come, from humble beginnings in an old, crumbling warehouse without air conditioning in north Oak Cliff to a more modern facility down the street from Dallas ISD’s David W. Carter High School. That 100,000 free meals have been served through Youth World is quite a feat. “This number represents hearts,” Shirley said. “Hearts, faces and little tummies.”
Starting Youth World in 1998 with little more than a crafts table, borrowed computer and some jump ropes, Shirley said she expected 30 kids to participate that first summer. However, 100 showed up. “It was so heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time,” she said. “We just couldn’t stop.” In the 20 years since, the demand for services has grown, and now Youth World has a building to match.
Margaret Lopez, executive director of Dallas ISD’s Food and Child Nutrition Services, said the need for child nutrition is great during the summer. “It’s been a strong partnership with Youth World,” she said. “Eighteen years we’ve been working together.” She noted that children and youth 18 years old and younger are welcome at any of the Dallas sites for the free meals. “At Youth World, they exercise their bodies and their brains, and they need fuel for all of that.”
Shirley thanked the community support and many partners that help keep Youth World running. “Only a community and an army could do this for so many kids,” she said. Beyond meeting immediate needs, she said the center offers a place where children can find hope and their futures. “There’s so much more that needs to be done.”
To find where free meals are offered this summer, visit the Dallas ISD Summer Meals page, which offers a location tool.