By Sukhjit Dhaliwal, Expanded Learning Opportunities VISTA for School's Out Washington.
Childhood hunger is an unfortunate reality that reaches many parts of the United States. Many of our nation’s children and youth who rely on free and reduced-price school breakfast and lunches to keep hunger away lose access to those meals after school and during the summer.
In fact, 15 million children (21 percent) under the age of 18 lived in poverty and were exposed to hunger in 2016. Fortunately, there are funds available from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to serve meals in afterschool programs and during the summer time through the Child and Adult Care Program (CACFP) and the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). These programs allow non-profits, public agencies and other organizations to get reimbursed for the nutritious meals and snacks they serve to kids.
Although CACFP and SFSP have been successful in feeding more children and youth, we have yet to leverage its full potential.
In Washington State, Cassie Davidson, the food and nutrition program manager in the Yakima School District, has been successful in increasing access to meal opportunities in her district. The district leadership recognized the need during the summer months and wanted to reach as many kids as possible, going beyond the fourteen school and community locations they had previously supported.
Inspired by Auburn School District’s summer-feeding strategy, Yakima School District also implemented a food bus to serve free meals to children and youth in various areas. During the summer, they had two buses that visit 12 locations including low-income housing sites, parks, and recreational parking lots, from about 10:30 a.m. to 1:45 p.m.
Davidson believes that keeping an open mind and getting creative on how to reach kids led to this new successful strategy.
She mentions, “We used to think that the only way we can feed kids was with school programming, but we needed to think outside of the box. We realized we need to bring the meals to the kids and not expect the kids to come to us.”
The food bus was and continues to be a success in the Yakima School District. Davidson is excited about the progress being made and is continuously looking for other ways to expand. She aims to serve 5,000 meals a day to kids, serve at four more mobile sites next year, and transition from providing afterschool snacks to meals. She believes it is achievable with the partners and resources available to them.
Another example is in White Salmon, where Dorinda Belcher, project director for 21st Century Community Learning Center (CCLC) Programs, has also been playing an active role in feeding more kids. To implement a successful summer meals program, Belcher sees the value in partnerships. “The partnership with the school district is essential, without them this would not be possible. The school district prepares the meals and the providers at programs serve the meals.”
Over time, Belcher recognized that providing better quality food alongside academic enrichment activities contributed to a positive increase in attendance in their Community Learning Centers summer programs, resulting in about 150 to 200 kids being fed in July. A few successful community outreach strategies that White Salmon Valley School District implemented include sending flyers home to families and distributing flyers in frequently visited places in town (grocery stores, libraries, parks, and more), creating newspaper and radio ads, displaying summer-feeding locations on reader boards, and recruiting more kids to the summer programs offered.
Dorinda’s advice to those interested in sponsoring and or serving meals is, “If you are not serving meals, you should. Kids are high-energy, and they need nutrition to do well in school and in the programs we run.”
Yakima School District and White Salmon Valley School District in Washington State are two prime examples highlighting that there is no “one” way to feed kids. Rather, multiple approaches can be implemented depending on the community you are serving.
AmeriCorps VISTA’s across the nation are working to tackle some of our nation’s biggest challenges, with childhood hunger being one of them. School’s Out Washington, along with other community-based organizations are making strides to eliminate food insecurity for children and families through these federal meal programs, but they cannot do it without your help.
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