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"Feed Your Brain" Combines Learning, Nutrition in Rural WA

PHOTO: Successful summer meal programs for kids combine healthy food with fun activities to keep them learning. In tiny Chimacum, it's a community effort for the Jefferson County YMCA. Photo courtesy School's Out Washington.
PHOTO: Successful summer meal programs for kids combine healthy food with fun activities to keep them learning. In tiny Chimacum, it's a community effort for the Jefferson County YMCA. Photo courtesy School's Out Washington.
June 4, 2014

CHIMACUM, Wash. - When the school year comes to an end, groups around the state kick into high gear to keep kids learning during the summer months - and also to ensure they have regular meals.

Some summer programs in high-need rural areas get an extra boost for that goal with a grant called "Feed Your Brain," from School's Out Washington. In towns such as Quilcene and Chimacum, the Jefferson County YMCA knows that kids who show up for the activities are likely to stay for the meals. So, program director Erica Delma said they give them plenty to do.

"We have a couple of hours of literacy activities, we have outdoor activities, and they also get a hearty snack and a lunch," she said. "It's kind of like coming to a mini summer camp, and so it attracts a lot of children."

In Washington, for every 100 students that get free or reduced-price meals during the school year, only 17 got summer meals last year. That's up slightly from the previous year, but far from the national goal of serving at least 40 out of 100 children.

Jim Weill, president of the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), said the USDA and states are working to improve outreach, so more parents know summer meals are available. The effort is paying off, according to FRAC's new report, with almost 3 million students fed last summer - 34,000 in Washington.

"It's a hopeful message, that we can grow this program," Weill said. "All the evidence is that hunger - food insecurity - spikes during the summer for kids, and it's because the kids don't have regular-year school meals. Summer food programs are the answer to that."

The Jefferson County "Y" has also figured out that a successful meal program involves the whole community. Delma said they've lined up teams from local church and civic groups to pack and deliver the lunches.

"The volunteers really love what they're doing," she said. "It's an excellent opportunity for them to socialize and also to feel really connected to the community. So, they show up ready to go and we just get it all done. It is a lot of work, but we have many hands helping."

Ten summer learning and meal programs received "Feed Your Brain" grants for this summer. All are in towns with populations of fewer than 25,000. The list of grantees is online at schoolsoutwashington.org.

The summer meal report is at frac.org.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA