Summer food programs scarce for Garfield County kids
School is out for the summer, which may mean some students are without sufficient food.
According to the Colorado Department of Education, 53 percent of students in the Garfield School District Re-2 and 42 percent of students in the Roaring Fork School District are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch during the school year.
But summer nutrition programs are a bit scarce. The idea behind such programs is that children whose families face income challenges and rely on school meal plans during the school year may not have their nutritional needs met when school isn’t in session.
Garfield Re-2 provided a summer nutrition program in past years where anyone younger than 18 could come and eat breakfast and lunch during certain times.
Theresa Hamilton, director of districtwide services for Re-2, said the nutrition program was operated in conjunction with summer school. Few children from the community came for meals, though, so the district tried moving the program to a more central location in Rifle. Even then, Hamilton said traffic was low.
“It still didn’t see … much of any use,” Hamilton said.
This year, Re-2 didn’t have the resources to make the nutrition program work, she said, in part because of low community use of the program.
It’s a problem nationwide. NPR recently reported that only a fraction of the 21 million U.S. students who eat subsidized meals during the school year get help during the summer.
Dana Wood, LiveWell Garfield County coordinator, said transportation could be an issue for kids to get to places for a meal, especially in the spread-out valley.
She said food banks and shelters contribute a great deal to helping children have adequate food in the summer, but “that’s only a small piece of this issue of fighting hunger in our own community,” Wood said.
“I definitely think that the programs are more beneficial for kids during the summer session,” she said.
Wood said she’d like to see a change in approach to the issue.
“You do see more of those food truck on wheels or mobile-type programs,” Wood said. “I think something nontraditional is what has to happen when it comes to rural communities.”
She said if everyone can come together to create different approaches, maybe more kids could get the food they need.
Wood said people might perceive that schools are the only sites for these programs, which isn’t the case.
Access Roaring Fork, an organization that provides after-school and summer programs, is on its fifth year of providing BoostCamp.
BoostCamp is a summer program that also provides food to its participants. The fee is $135 for four weeks.
Mindi Cabe, program director for Access Roaring Fork, said that a parent survey rated meals as very important to include in the program.
During its four-week session, the program provides breakfast, lunch and an afternoon snack for participating kids.
“That tells me that, yeah, the need is great, and alleviating the need for some of those parents is very important,” Cabe said.
Though LIFT-UP, a local nonprofit organization dedicated to assisting people in the community, doesn’t offer any specific summer food program, it might soon.
“There really is probably need for a summer food program,” said Kimberly Loving, executive director of LIFT-UP.
She said there isn’t much detail about a summer program, but the organization may collaborate with schools to get something going.
“It’s sort of in the beginning stages,” Loving said.
The Re-1 school district has summer programs that offer meals for students, said Diana Sirko, RFSD superintendent.
The free summer school programs offer breakfast and lunch. Sirko said the district had to choose whether to feed kids at summer school or to organize a communitywide summer nutrition program.
“They only allow you to offer one kind of program in the summer,” Sirko said of federally funded meal programs.
The district has four programs, all of which serve anyone from preschool to middle school students. Most programs have been going for four years.
“We know that our most needy students are eating breakfast and lunch every day for five weeks,” Sirko said of the approximate 1,200 students served.
Sirko said if students qualify, parents must fill out the free and reduced-price lunch forms. Even if kids don’t eat school lunch every day, she said, it’s important that the resource is there if students need it.
“We hope that parents keep in mind that this is something that is available to them,” Sirko said.
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