Kids’ lunch camp continues this week with new help, focus

Two years ago, South Kitsap Helpline Executive Director Jennifer Hardison launched a program to help hungry young tummies get through the summer. This week, thanks to help from Wal-Mart, Hardison is expanding the program to include Spring Break.

Two years ago, South Kitsap Helpline Executive Director Jennifer Hardison launched a program to help hungry young tummies get through the summer.

This week, thanks to help from Wal-Mart, Hardison is expanding the program to include Spring Break.

Until Friday, any local child who may be going without a nutritious lunch — particularly since school is out and they can’t eat there — can get “enriching” food and activities beginning at 10 a.m. at the Port Orchard Knights of Columbus Hall on Mitchell Road.

Previously, the program was staffed largely with volunteers and only one employee, Suanne Martin-Smith, who ran the program and organized educational activities for the children who attended.

Now with Wal-Mart’s sponsorship, Hardison said the program can support three part-time employees, along with a “homeless outreach advocate,” who is tasked with working with local agencies to make sure homeless families find out about and can take advantage of the program.

“We want to find out what the barriers are, such as transportation or information, and find out how we can get them there,” she said, explaining that longtime collaborator Bernice Maxfield, the director of Security Financial Services, will be taking on the new role and working with South Kitsap School District officials to locate the families most in need.

Hardison said this effort was spurred on by a parent at last year’s lunch camp alerting her staff to a number of homeless children living in a local hotel. To help them, she said, her staff packed-up lunches, clothing and other necessities and delivered them directly to the children.

This week’s program will also feature local artist and teacher Martin-Smith, who last year taught camp participants about a new country or continent last week by introducing them to the destination’s culture and food.

However, Hardison said for the Spring Break Lunch Camp Martin-Smith’s focus will be “healthy mind, healthy body — healthy kids,” adding that she not only hopes to improve the kids’ health, but boost their self-esteem as well.

Hardison began the lunch camps in 2006, and soon received an award from Food Lifeline, the largest non-profit food bank distribution agency in Washington, which gave the program its “Excellence in Food Resource Development” award along with a $5,000 grant.

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