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County increasing access to free summer meal program

Looking to counter the state trend of decreasing participation of free lunch-eligible children


As Crook County gets ready to open up four summer meal program sites, three more than last year, Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon released a report measuring these types of program’s participation rates.

In 2013, Crook County served 1,331 meals, representing a mere 2 percent of those students eligible for free lunch during the school year. That summer, the county provided meals for 38 days, supported by $3,690 in federal support. by: KEVIN SPERL/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Brooke Everest (right), Bailey Everest, Max LeFevre and Darrah Johnson eat lunch at the Crook County Kids Club at Cecil Sly on Wednesday. Lunch for those attending is provided as part of the summer free meal program.

“Last summer, Oregon saw a dip in the number of kids accessing free nourishing meals at summer schools, parks and other community hubs in low-income neighborhoods across the state,” said Elizabeth Seaberry, communications manager for Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon.

The report noted a number of factors that contributed to the statewide dip in kids accessing nourishing food, including program cuts and a decrease in the number of summer school programs.

Seaberry noted that in 2013, there was a decrease of 39,615 meals served statewide compared to the previous year. Crook County’s participation showed a 79 percent decrease that same year.

“Overall, a wide gap between summer meal and school breakfast and lunch participation still persists,” she noted.

This year, Crook County is looking to significantly increase meal participation.

The school district’s Nutrition Services Manager, Dana Rudy, has implemented a plan to bring free summer meals to four locations in Prineville. This is being done in conjunction with the inaugural year for the Kiwanis-sponsored kindergarten summer school at Cecil Sly, slated to open on Monday. Other locations include the Pioneer High School summer session and Lutheran Community Services.

“I am hoping to serve closer to 8,000 meals over the summer,” said Rudy. “I am still looking for more sites as the Oregon Department of Education has told us we can add sites all summer long if we need to.”

Rudy is investigating the possibility of opening an additional free meal site in Ochoco West at the pool and community center.

“I am trying to find out more about that and possibly set up something there,” she said. “If anyone knows of any other good places, please let me know.”

Wayne Looney, the driving force behind the creation of the Kiwanis Summer School program, confirmed that 55 to 60 students will be enrolled by the time classes begin on Monday at Cecil Sly, in a partnership with the Crook County Kids Club.

“From my point of view, having the Kids Club available so that working parents have a secure place for their kids to be from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. is significant,” he said. “I can’t think of a more cost effective and better environment for kids that will also provide them education and food.”

Ashley Thrasher, director of the Crook County Kids Club, has seen an increase in enrollment for her summer program, anticipated to be 50 kids, up from 30 during the summer of 2013.

“Our membership has increased this year so that will help the summer meals program,” said Thrasher. “I also think that getting the kids for summer school here will help as well.”

Thrasher is also encouraged that this year’s program will be providing more substantial meals that she feels will help increase participation as well.

Crook County relies on the Summer Food Service Program, a federal program launched in 1968 to address child hunger. The program targets students who rely on free and reduced-price school breakfast and lunch programs that would often face hunger when school lets out for the summer. This federally funded program allows districts to offer free meals to children and youth ages 1 to 18 years, with the only restriction being that the meals be consumed on-site.

Two weeks ago, the Food Research and Action Center published a report that indicates better news, nationwide, for summer meal programs.

“In 2013, for the first time in a decade, the number of low-income children eating summer meals saw a substantial increase year-over-year,” the report stated.

According to the report, nearly three million children participated in July 2013, an increase of 161,000 children, or 5.7 percent, from July 2012.

In its annual report, “Hunger Doesn’t Take a Vacation,” FRAC measures the success of Summer Nutrition Programs at the national and state levels by comparing the number of children receiving summer meals, to the number of low-income children receiving school lunch during the regular school year.

Overall, the programs grew to serve 15 children for every 100 low-income children who participated in school lunch during the 2012-2013 school year, a modest increase from the 14 students per 100 served during the 2011-2012 school year.

“More low-income children are eating federally-funded summer meals subject to federal nutrition standards, and that’s good news for families and communities across the nation,” said FRAC president Jim Weill. “Summer meals are moving in a positive direction, but we need to accelerate progress. Summer meals only are reaching one in seven low-income children. States and cities should continue to build on their successes so we can keep reducing the summer hunger gap.”




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