During the summer months, food insecurity is a large concern for school officials who say summertime is when many kids tend to go hungry.
To curtail that hunger, the U.S. Department of Agriculture summer meals program provides free meals during the summer break.
In the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley, around 1,000 meals are given out on a daily basis to kids who show up at nearly a dozen sites that dole out free meals.
It’s an important service, officials said.
“The summer program helps meet a need,” said Jodi Hoff, food service supervisor for the Lewiston School District. “It’s a good program to help continue nutritious meals through the summer that kids might not otherwise have access to.”
This year, the Clarkston School District became a food vendor for the Lewiston Boys and Girls Clubs, which allowed the organization to increase its meal sites to three. The district already provided meals for the Clarkston-based club, so transitioning all of the locations to the same vendor has helped streamline the process.
Largent Reeb, the Lewiston unit director for the Boys and Girls Clubs, said the organization used to take as many as four busloads of kids to Lewiston schools each weekday to receive a meal, but now the kids can stay on site and get the added bonus of a snack.
Each USDA site is able to provide either two meals or a meal and a snack.
“Now all of our kids are getting an afternoon snack, which helps them tremendously,” Reeb said. “It might be the last thing they eat for the night. We hope not, but that might be the case, so at least they are getting something nutritious at 4 o’clock.”
Amy Kimberling, food service director for the Clarkston School District, said between 500 and 600 meals are provided to the school district and Boys and Girls Clubs sites.
Between the four sites within the Lewiston School District, about 350 lunches are served a day. Jenifer Junior High School is the only location in the valley that offers breakfast. On average, between 90 and 100 meals are served daily.
The Clarkston School District has taken on a different model, providing meals for students at area parks.
“It’s hard to have access to schools because of maintenance issues during the summer,” Kimberling said. “The parks allow for the kids to come eat and play at the same time. They seem to like that, versus being in the gym where they eat during the school year.”
With between 50 percent and 60 percent of the students in the Clarkston School District in the free and reduced-meal program, Kimberling said the summer meal program is vital to ensure kids have access to nutritious meals.
“We have kids that live close to the parks that walk over everyday,” she said. “It just fills the gap of school not being in session and them not having access to those meals during the school year.”
All three program sponsors said the numbers of students served has remained fairly steady over the past few years.
According to an analysis by the Food Research and Action Center, Idaho ranked in the top 10 in the nation for participation in the summer lunch program in July 2017, feeding around 18,300 kids – despite a 10.4 percent decline in average daily participation when compared to numbers in July 2016.
Washington ranked number 33 in participation in July 2017, feeding about 37,660 kids. The state experienced a 0.3 percent increase when compared to numbers in July 2016.
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