Munch Bunch web photo

The North Freedom Munch Bunch meets once a month to provide healthy meals to the community's youth. 

ZBIGNIEW BZDAK, CHICAGO TRIBUNE

NORTH FREEDOM — Village leaders figure inviting children to prepare and eat nourishing meals keeps them healthy in two ways — it’s good nutrition, and it ensures there are no idle hands to do the devil’s work.

The North Freedom Munch Bunch convenes once a month, with community volunteers working alongside youths to prepare meals and build rapport. The free meal was the brainchild of several community leaders — a pastor, the librarian, the village clerk — who saw that children need a healthy meal and a productive activity.

“I see these kids where they are and that for some, a wholesome meal is not something available on a regular basis,” North Freedom Library Director Raina Roloff said. “This program gives local youth a chance to work alongside a local adult and learn a lifelong skill.”

The program began in September, with Sauk County Sheriff’s Office deputies working with children to make a meal at the North Freedom Community Center. The next month, North Freedom firefighters volunteered. On Thursday, North Freedom Elementary School staff will volunteer.

“We all just got together and decided we needed to get something started,” Village Clerk-Treasurer Kayla Steinhorst said. “The kids here don’t have a lot to do, and sometimes they get into mischief.”

Steinhorst’s mother, Joleen Erdmann, helped start the program, as did North Freedom Baptist Church Pastor Andrew Dear and his wife, Heather.

“I think the Munch Bunch is beneficial to our community because it brings kids and adults together and meets a need that many in our community have been concerned about,” Pastor Dear said.

His wife thought a community meal might provide a positive environment for kids and an opportunity to build relationships with community leaders.

“This way all kids in town could learn how to make a basic healthy meal and also learn that the adults in the area are ‘real people’ too,” Andrew Dear said. “It’s great to see a community rally around their kids to give them great opportunities to grow healthy in a variety of areas in life.”

In exchange for their free meal, kids ranging from kindergartners to high school seniors set tables, boil noodles and wash dishes. About 30 attend each month, permission slip in hand.

Food is donated. September’s groceries were paid for by several volunteers. The North Freedom Community 5K, run by Steinhorst and Erdmann, covered October. North Freedom Elementary staff are providing food this month, with Bunbury & Associates covering December’s meal. Individual donations also have helped cover the meals’ $100 monthly cost.

“We’ve basically been going on donations to make these meals happen for the kids,” Steinhorst said. “I think it’s been great so far.”

Organizers want the program to expand. “There is no one organization leading this; it is a true community event,” Roloff said. “So far, we are only able to host this program once a month, but we see the need and interest for something more.”

Follow Ben Bromley on Twitter @ben_bromley