Home Education Free summer meals help curb food insecurity and get kids outside

Free summer meals help curb food insecurity and get kids outside

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POCATELLA — On a recent sunny afternoon, kids hopped out of vans, rode skateboards and rode by on their bikes, all headed for a free picnic at Raymond Pocatello Park.

The Summer Food Service Program, as the federally funded and state-administered free meals are available at parks and schools across the country, ensures that children and teens age 18 and younger have access to food when school is not in school.

Last summer in Idaho, more than 4.1 million meals and snacks were served at more than 250 locations, according to the state Department of Education. In July 2021, an average of 23,940 children received meals (including breakfast, lunch or dinner depending on what was served) each day.

During the school year, districts support students by providing grants breakfast and lunch if necessary. Some schools also have their own food pantries, and 173 schools across the state participate in The Idaho Foodbank Backpack Programwhich provides the children with food on weekends.

When schools close for the summer, these important programs are also suspended. This is where lunches in the park come into play.

Kids enjoy lunch at Raymond Park Pocatello.

“This program makes schools a central hub for communities, ensuring that kids have access to wholesome meals all summer long, are healthy, happy and ready to go back to school to learn in the fall,” Maggie Reynolds, Public Information Specialist with SDE. wrote in an email. “Feedback on the program has been positive, particularly because it has helped food-insecure families access healthy food throughout the uncertainty of the pandemic.”

According to Jonathan Balls, director of business operations for Pocatello/Chubbuck, the meal is free to anyone under 18, but it is only served in areas where 50 percent or more of children and youth qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. School District 25 In SD25 during the 2021-2022 school year, an average of 699 students each month took home backpacks of food for the weekend, a number that indicates the level of food insecurity in the community. 38,891 meals have already been distributed in the district in the four weeks since the start of summer nutrition.

“This is a great program to help our families meet their basic needs,” said Dr. Douglas Howell, Superintendent of Schools for Pocatello/Chubbuck School District 25. “It’s also a good opportunity for socialization.”

School District 25 has already served more than 38,000 meals this summer.

Co-parents William Braden and Rebecca Bowcutt stood in the lunch line at Raymond Park with their 2-year-old son, Ryder, last Thursday. They often take Ryder to the park for lunch and enjoy the “family atmosphere”.

“It’s nice that they’re helping people for free,” Braden said.

Rebecca Bowcutt, Ryder Braden and William Braden relax at Raymond Park Pocatello.

Behind them, Lindsey Humphries was slathering sunscreen on a group of 5-9 year olds from Adventures in Daycare. She said she takes the kids to a different local park every day.

“It’s a great program,” she said. “For some kids, you just don’t know — it might be their only meal today. And all children can play together.”

Food Service Officer Linda Nielson said parents are very appreciative of the program, noting that children with working parents can come to the park on their own to eat.

The program is also a boon for school district employees who want to work and earn more money during the summer, including bus drivers and cafeteria workers. Nielson, who works in the cafeteria at Gate City Elementary during the school year, is one of them.

Across town at Alameda Park, which typically serves more than 400 people each day, Sherry Thornley and her three children, Talisa, 9, Ashlyn, 7, and Matthew, 4, sprawled on the grass with lunches spread out in front of them. .

Talisa, Sherry, Ashlyn and Matthew Thornley at Alameda Pocatello Park.

The best part of the summer lunch program? “When you’re done eating, you can play,” Talisa said.

Her brother Matthew was already starting, running around the group and knocking heads in a game of duck-duck-goose.

“It’s wonderful. We spend time outside together,” Sherry said, but added that she would like the food to be fresher.

The federal government established the Summer Food Program in 1968 and began piloting it in 1969. Schools, local government agencies, camps, and community organizations can run or sponsor a summer meal program.

For more information visit Summer Food Service Program website. To find free summer spots near you, check out USDA – site for finding baby food.

Carly Flanders

About Carly Flanders

Reporter Carly Flandro works in the East Idaho bureau of EdNews. A former high school English teacher, she writes about teaching, learning, diversity, and equity. You can follow Flanders on Twitter @idahoedcarly and send her news tips at [email protected]

Read more stories by Carly Flanders »

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