Hunger is an obstacle to learning in school.
For years, the government has addressed that concern by offering reimbursement to serve free breakfasts and lunches at qualifying schools.
Now local organizations want to make sure children have food at home, too.
At Lidgerwood Elementary School, a mobile food bank, weekend food kits and practical cooking and nutrition lessons are all part of a new program.
“We asked ourselves: What would it look like to make these kids food-secure?” said Rod Wieber, Second Harvest’s chief resource officer.
Lidgerwood is the first of three schools the agency has selected for the program, called Second Harvest at Spokane Schools. It’s funded through a $300,000, three-year grant from Umpqua Bank.
A study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that food insecurity is “a prevalent risk to the growth, health, cognitive and behavioral potential of America’s poor and near-poor children.”
A cafeteria table inside Lidgerwood Elementary overflowed last week with Granny Smith apples, red and white potatoes, canned pasta mixes and a variety of breads. A mobile food bank visits the school the first and third Fridays of the month.
Brenda Clifton and her daughter, Trisha, carefully filled their reusable grocery bags as they walked along the table, soon carrying weighted sacks to their van.
“We wouldn’t utilize the food bank if it didn’t come here,” said Brenda Clifton, who works at Lidgerwood. “This helps fill in the gaps.”
Her husband lost his job of 22 years and is working part time, she said.
Trisha has coincidentally been learning about the importance of proper nutrition. She recently helped sort through two tons of lettuce with her Girl Scout troop.
“I realized we don’t always have the food we need,” she said.
Second Harvest’s mobile food bank has been to Lidgerwood twice. So far, more than 4,300 pounds of food have been distributed to 115 families.
Second Harvest already distributes more than 60,000 Bites-to-Go at 27 Spokane-area schools, providing food for the weekend, and the organization’s mobile food bank also visits several elementary schools and a couple of high schools. Second Harvest also partners with Washington State University to teach healthy eating and cooking. The program at Lidgerwood brings all of those elements together.
“What’s unique in this case is trying to figure out what does it take to make sure every student is food-secure every school day,” Wieber said.
After this first year, the nonprofit will assess how much food it gave away and what that achieved, Wieber said.
“It’s hard to say what this will look like in a couple years. Right now, we just want to focus on year one. We really want to make a big impact.”
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