|Meal program meets increased summer demand
This summer, 30,000 Sonoma County children faced hunger during vacation.
The Redwood Empire Food Bank (REFB) stepped in for the ninth year to ensure students who rely on their school’s free or reduced cost lunch program during the academic year were able to access free meals.
With the assistance of more than 100 volunteers, the REFB “ConAgra Foods Foundation Hunger-Free Summer Program” served an impressive 105,662 meals from 47 sites located throughout Sonoma County. That is 2,675 more meals than last year.
The increase in the number of meals served came as no surprise to the Food Bank’s executive director, David Goodman.
“According to a survey by the Associated Press, this year the number of Americans living at or below the poverty line will reach close to 16 percent, its highest point in 50 years,” Goodman said. “One reason is we're still in a recession, and also we’ve had a change in our economy over the last 40 years that has produced a flood of low-wage jobs.
“Many families in Sonoma County are working hard just to scrape by. When hit by the uncertainties of life, a medical emergency, unexpected car repairs, or job loss, they simply can’t afford that bag of groceries to put food on the table. These are the families who benefit from programs like our Summer Lunch.”
From June through August, more local children than ever before were able to eat lunch because of the REFB’s efforts. When Summer Lunch first began in 2004, about 20,000 children were eligible for free or reduced-price school lunches.
This year, that number rose to 30,000, and REFB increased its efforts to successfully meet the growing demand. Not only has the REFB bridged the gap to provide free summer meals to school children, but also to fill the void left by school districts being forced to put their summer school programs on the chopping block.
“Many summer school programs have been lost to budget cuts. The REFB filled the need for recreational opportunities when possible at each site,” said REFB programs manager, Itzul Gutierrez. “This summer, our program included garden-based nutrition activities, funded in part by the General Mills Foundation. Children learned gardening skills and the benefits of eating healthy fresh food. During the Summer Lunch Kick-off Week in June, the fun and interactive Smoothie Bike also toured sites, teaching children how to make healthy fruit smoothies while promoting exercise.”
Planning will soon be underway at the Food Bank for next year’s 10th annual Summer Lunch Program.
For more information, contact Gutierrez at 523-7900, ext. 32, or e-mail email@example.com.