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Groups Fill Food-Access Gaps in WA School District


Wednesday, July 27, 2022   

When school districts are not able to provide summer-school classes, it can have a big effect on how children get meals. Case in point: the Mount Adams School District in the Yakima Valley, where staffing shortages mean about 800 kids won't have breakfast and lunch meal options this summer.

Groups like Yakima Valley Partners for Education and the Peacekeeper Society are stepping up to fill the gap, in communities like White Swan and Harrah.

Suzy Diaz, collective impact director of Yakima Valley Partners for Education, said a confluence of issues is leading families to choose low-quality foods.

"Families will go for low cost but also low nutrition, because it's something that is easier for families to access," Diaz explained. "Our hope is that we can all work together to support the families during this time."

Diaz pointed out inflation and high transportation costs are putting pressure on local families. Her organization provides food access which is culturally relevant for the region, with its high percentage of residents of Latin heritage. She added they have to cancel their event this week because of a heat advisory.

Carmen Mendez, food access network director for Northwest Harvest, said they have been asked to support families in the Yakima Valley and are trying to find ways to help, even as they deal with their own supply-chain issues. She noted there is a sad irony to this situation in the region.

"They're surrounded by apple orchards as far as the eyes can see, and hops and everything else," Mendez observed. "Yet they don't get to experience or enjoy any of that bounty of the valley."

Mendez emphasized a new Northwest Harvest distribution site in the Yakima Valley should be set up by December, when the group hopes to partner with local farmers to provide food access.

Diaz added families are in a difficult situation, but are thankful for the support they're receiving.

"It's always nice to see people come up and be very surprised and express their gratitude for just having community rally around them," Diaz concluded.

About one in six Washington children lives in a household facing challenges to putting enough food on the table, according to Northwest Harvest.

Disclosure: Northwest Harvest contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy and Priorities, Hunger/Food/Nutrition, Poverty Issues, and Sustainable Agriculture. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.

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