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Providing Summer Meals and Learning in WA State

Olympic Peninsula YMCAs are using school gardens to teach children during the summer. (Growing Great/flickr)
Olympic Peninsula YMCAs are using school gardens to teach children during the summer. (Growing Great/flickr)
June 23, 2016

SEATTLE - Children who rely on school meal programs often struggle with hunger over the summer, when access to meal programs is limited. According to a report from the Food Research and Action Center, Washington saw a 27 percent increase in average participation per day in summer nutrition programs from 2014 to 2015. But the state still is ranked 32nd in the nation for participation.

David Beard, the policy and advocacy director at School's Out Washington, said children in rural parts of the state have the greatest barriers to getting meals.

"A lot of that is due to transportation complications, as well as having the facilities open to be able to serve meals," he said.

Beard said children can fight two summer challenges in one with programs funded by Feed Your Brain. Feed Your Brain is helping students fight learning loss while also providing meals.

Children who aren't provided with at least some education over summer vacation can lose months of learning from the previous school year. Beard said summer learning loss and lack of access to food are related.

"Often times, these are the same kids that we're talking about, that need meals and that are not having access to summer learning," he added.

Erica Delma is the director of development and community engagement with the Olympic Peninsula YMCA, which is one of the recipients of the Feed Your Brain grant. She said summer meal programs in her community are critical because the majority of kids receive free and reduced lunches during the school year and also are at risk of falling behind in school over the summer. So YMCA programs at local schools have come up with ways to combine learning with meals from school gardens.

"To tie it with both the garden where the food is coming from, and how we're growing the food, we've done journaling in the garden, and there's a variety of activities that the kids have engaged in right on site there," she said. "So that's been really beneficial on both sides."

The full report can be read online here.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA