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Donna Parsons works year round to ensure that over 40,000 children in Washington have access to healthy food during their summer vacations. Parsons is the Supervisor of School & Summer Nutrition Programs for the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI). Of the children who qualify for free or reduced cost lunch and breakfast during the school year, an estimated 82% go without this service during the summer break.
“Summer feeding is always a struggle,” according to Parsons. “We have plenty of sponsors and sites, except for some of our remote areas, but our total meals served each summer continues to go down.” Sponsors for the Summer Feeding Program can include school districts, public agencies, churches or non-profits. Sponsors provide the meal and OSPI reimburses them with dedicated USDA funds. Parsons says, “The number of sponsors and sites holds fairly constant, but with high gas prices the last two summers, the number of children served went down. We are trying to offset this decrease in service with more promotion.”
Each year, OSPI sends sponsors promotional materials, including outdoor banners that say “Free Summer Meals.” They also mail 125,000 postcards promoting the Family Food Hotline to the homes of school aged children who qualify for Medicaid. The hotline provides information on the nearest summer feeding site. Both OSPI and sponsors promote the program via press releases and public service announcements.
Parsons says that volunteers are always needed, especially in remote areas where children can’t safely walk to feeding sites. “Some parents take the initiative to pick up nearby children and drive them to the summer feeding site. Organizations with vans can help transport children.” With more volunteers and transportation options, fewer children will be left at home all day without healthy food while their parents are at work.
The number of households experiencing hunger in Washington has increased over the last five years, according to new figures released by the United States Department of Agriculture. Food insecurity means not having enough food to be healthy and active. Measured over a two year period, the percent of households reporting very low food security increased from 3.5% in 2007 to 5.8% in 2009, the highest rate in more than a decade. During the same time frame, the US rate of very low food security increased from 4.0% to 5.2%.
Featured: June 2011
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