Two out of every five people served by food banks in the Inland Northwest are children.
That’s no surprise to Tim Frye, who sees hungry kids every day while directing programs at the Northeast Youth Center in Hillyard, one of the state’s poorest neighborhoods.
He talks about children who race on their bikes between summer meal program locations to get as much free food as they can. Or of a teenage boy who lives near the youth center who says he didn’t have any dinner, again, because his dad came home drunk.
These children receive free or reduced-price meals in school, but what about when school’s out?
While some schools have summer meal programs, “there are kids that have a real gap in an adequate supply of food,” said Jason Clark, executive director of Second Harvest of the Inland Northwest, which distributes more than 1 million pounds of donated food each month in 26 Eastern Washington and North Idaho counties. “The idea is to close that gap for kids.”
Starting this summer, a collaborative effort of Second Harvest and the Northeast Youth Center will attack that problem in a new way. Second Harvest recently landed a $30,000 grant from ConAgra Foods to start Washington’s first Kids Café in Spokane.
Kids Café is a nationwide program launched in 1993 by America’s Second Harvest, the national food bank network; it has 1,600 locations. Kids Cafés provide free meals and snacks to children from low-income families at community locations where children congregate, including Boys & Girls Clubs, churches and schools.
A Georgia food bank started the first Kids Café after two young brothers in Savannah were caught stealing food one night in the kitchen of their housing project’s community center. America’s Second Harvest expanded the program nationwide.
Kids Cafés help serve the more than 12 million children in the U.S. who live in households where food is not readily available, according to America’s Second Harvest. In Spokane County, as many as 7,000 children are regularly served by food banks, Clark said. About 40 percent of Spokane County students qualified for free or reduced-price lunches in 2006, according to the Community Indicators Initiative of Spokane.
Clark said he’d like to see Kids Cafés throughout this region. The grant will cover equipment, food and staffing, but it’s seed money, so Second Harvest has to determine how to support Kids Cafés through fundraising or its regular operating budget, Clark said.
The Northeast Youth Center is ideal as the first Kids Café location because it draws hundreds of children from schools in low-income neighborhoods, Clark said. The center has after-school, daytime and summer camp programs, which include meals and snacks, but Frye wants to improve the nutritional value of the food served. He’d like to see the children eating more yogurt, oatmeal, fruits and vegetables.
“I want to see more protein in their diet, and iron and things these kids are lacking,” Frye said. “I want a little more substance.”
That’s why the partnership will be a great opportunity to help kids, Clark said.
“They’re serving snacks, but they don’t have enough resources to do it consistently,” he said. “They are really concerned about enhancing what they do.”