Ulster Project teens aided McPherson's Summer Lunch Program recently by collecting money and packing food.

Ulster Project teens aided McPherson's Summer Lunch Program recently by collecting money and packing food.
For several years, this exchange has helped solve hunger in two ways. The food program gives meals to local families who struggle to make ends meet during the summer. The Ulster Project helps hunger of a different sort — it addresses the desire of Northern Ireland teens to have peace and understanding in their towns.
The Ulster Project helps foster peacemaking between young Catholics and Protestants from Northern Ireland. Every July, teens from both religions visit the United States and gain a better understanding of each other. While they wouldn't have associated with each other back home, in the U.S., they become roommates and lifelong friends.
Eight teens and their leaders, who arrived July 1 from across the Atlantic Ocean, are in McPherson this summer.
Nicole Hamilton, 16, of Northern Ireland, said she is participating in the project to see how Americans get past religions differences and bring that concept home.
“It's kind of annoying, being always separated and always having all the sigma associated with (the two religions),” she said. “We were always just told, 'You're Catholic' and 'You're Protestant,' but we didn't know what the differences were. Now I know the differences and I know they're not anything to do with the (extremists). It's just the way you worship.”
Her host, 15-year-old Hannah Corbus of McPherson, said she has enjoyed learning about leadership and religious peace this summer.
“I've loved seeing the difference of the teams when they first came and now,” she said. “You don't realize the religious differences. We don't even know the difference and it doesn't matter.”
The Ulster Project participants from both countries will participate in a number of activities this summer, such as a dance, variety show and golf tournament.
Wednesday they packaged food for the Summer Lunch Program, which began June 5 and will continue to do so weekly through Aug. 7. The teens will be serving in this way for three weeks.
“We're getting hosted by people in McPherson, and we're giving something back,” Hamilton said of their time in the U.S. “It's kind of like we're just taking, so it's nice to give as well.”
The Summer Lunch Program helps families who rely on school meals during the year to eat during the summer. Paper bags of goods include cereal, sandwich supplies, healthy snacks and single-serve fruit cups and pudding, among other items.
Patricia Deist of McPherson received food from the program for four years while she was unemployed. Now she has a full-time job and is going to school.
“If it wasn't for that program, I don't know what I would have done during the summer,” she said. “It was probably the only healthy food (my kids) would get during the summer. (They) have better habits because of the programs offered in McPherson.”
This year, 233 children from 104 families are receiving food, compared to 220 in 2012. It costs $77.25 to feed each child, totaling $18,000 for the summer. Right now, the program is in need of about $4,500 to cover these costs.
Becky Goss, president of the McPherson County Community Foundation, said the food program wouldn't be possible without volunteers like the Ulster Project participants.
“In volunteering, you really understand that (the program) does help,” she said. “Your heart goes out to the community.”

Contact Jenae Pauls at jpauls@mcphersonsentinel.com and follow her on Twitter @PaulsSentinel