The summer learning “slide,” and the nutritional gap that occurs when food programs that operate during the school year cease, can hit children from lower-income households hard.
Some hard-working organizations in our community are counteracting these deficits.
A USDA summer lunch program is operated by the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe at the Tribe’s kitchen from noon to 1 p.m. through Aug. 31. In addition, breakfast is available at Wolfle Elementary School from 8:45-9:15 a.m. through July 14 during the Wolfle Summer Experience.
Both meals are free to children ages 18 and younger. For adults who accompany their children, lunches are $4 as available.
ShareNet’s Food to Grow On (F2GO) backpack program extends its regular school-year run to serve Wolfle’s summer session as well. Between Port Gamble S’Klallam’s breakfast program at school, the lunch available at the Tribe’s kitchen and the weekend take-home food provided by ShareNet, the kids attending Wolfle’s summer session will be well-served.
This is the only USDA site operating in North Kitsap, as Wolfle is the only local school qualifying on the basis of more than 50 percent of the student body receiving free and reduced-price lunches during the school year. There are other qualification methods for meal sites, such as income-qualifying each family served, but that’s much tougher operationally than being an “open site.”
Stacy Mills, family assistance program manager within the Tribe’s Children and Family Services Department, coordinates this summer program and has the assistance of one part-time contracted cook dedicated to the program.
The USDA provides guidelines and administrative oversight to the state, which locally administers it through the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, or OSPI. The Tribe is the food program sponsor.
The Tribe’s kitchen and the school qualify meet OSPI, USDA and health district requirements, and have received a score of 100 percent on every visit, Mills said.
The program will provide three weeks of breakfast during Wolfle’s summer session, and eight weeks of lunch at the Tribe’s kitchen.
Meals follow USDA requirements: milk, protein, vegetable/fruit, and a grain. A sample lunch might be 2 ounces of chicken; a half-cup of rice; mandarin oranges, peaches, or pears; and steamed vegetables.
Meals are on a three-week rotation, so the five meals seen during the first week won’t appear again until week four. For breakfast, there are three different meal combinations based on milk, grain and fruit.
Since program guidelines state that children up to age 18 can participate, we wondered if many teens actually took advantage of the meals. Mills said some older kids from the Tribe’s summer youth employment program will utilize it as well as kids of families who happen to be on-site for the Canoe Journey. But she wants to emphasize the program is open to all in the community age 18 and younger.
Mills said the Tribe operated a summer lunch program in the 1980s and ’90s, stopped for a while, and then reactivated the program in 2012. In June 2016, they served 484 lunches. In July 2016, they served 1,205 lunches and 697 breakfasts, and in August 2016 provided 452 lunches.
Since Wolfle’s summer session is the final piece of F2GO’s school-year food backpack program in all four of our local public schools, we then pass the baton to Food for Kids for the balance of the summer, July 21 to Aug. 31, until we begin again in September.
Greater Kingston Kiwanis and Kingston Cares will be storing and packing in a donated space next to the post office, and then distributing through the Tribe’s kitchen between noon and 1 p.m.Fridays.
We are really fortunate in this community to have so many people who care about hungry kids, who recognize that hunger is a year-round problem that increases during the summer when school-year programs are not available, and who support the organizations who serve this need.
— Mark Ince is executive director of ShareNet. Contact him at email@example.com.