Summer Meals and More Being Served for Oregon Kids
PORTLAND, Ore. – This summer, more than 130 sponsors at almost 900 sites across the state are ready to provide nutritious lunches and, in many cases, learning activities for children who would otherwise be on their own when school is out.
Annie Kirschner, director of programs for Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon, says even small organizations can launch a summer food program – and food costs are reimbursed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, so the benefits reach beyond feeding hungry children.
"Last summer, the program leveraged $6.4 million in federal reimbursement, which came directly into communities across the state – and helped buy milk, and fruit and vegetables, and create jobs, and pay for gas, and all those things that also help the community," she points out.
New reports out this week from the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) and Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon estimate between 35,000 and 45,000 meals are served daily in summer nutrition programs statewide.
However, compared to those who receive free or reduced-price lunches during the school year, fewer than one in five children get them during the summer.
The most successful summer meal programs combine food and fun, with activities to keep children coming back.
Renea Wood, director of program development at the YMCA of Klamath Falls, says meal providers and activity providers have formed a new Summer Food Program Coalition to help each other – and increase the number of meals served.
"For the last few years, we've had a robust summer food program, but it's been sponsors running solo, kind of doing projects all over the county on their own,” she explains. “And this year, we've had all those sponsors come to the table, sitting down with us and helping us increase activities at these summer food sites."
Wood says the focus of many of the summer activities will be physical fitness and nutrition.
In rural areas, some programs go mobile, bringing the food to the children. Dana Rudy, nutrition services supervisor for the Crook County School District, says its vans will be visiting several parks this summer.
"I think it's really important here,” she states. “We are probably at about 68 or 69 percent free-and-reduced lunches. Those kids really don't have a lot of access to that food that they'd normally have during the school year, in the summertime. So, we're trying to do the best that we can to reach as many of those kids as we can."
The van deliveries have allowed Crook County to increase the number of meals served by almost five times.
There are summer meal programs in every Oregon county except Lake and Wheeler.