Weekend Highlights

Published June 4, 2013
Health & Development

Summer is the Season of Hunger for Some Families

by Amy Hatch

The end of the school year signals the start of summer vacations, camping trips, longer days and warmer weather. Unfortunately, for thousands of Seattle-area children, it also means less access to the meals they so desperately count on. 

Here in Washington state, nearly one in four children are at risk of going hungry. This means that thousands of local children may face the consequences of hunger and malnutrition, and this risk grows greater when they are out of school for the summer and don’t have access to free or reduced-cost breakfasts and lunches through their school. The rate of children relying on these programs is incredibly high in our community and yet only 10 percent of those children have access to a summer meals program, which puts further pressure on families already struggling to put enough food on the table. “Kids in every community in Washington are hungry. Unfortunately, the need is so great,” says Northwest Harvest spokesperson Andrea Flatley. 

It is during this heightened time of need that donations to local food banks and organizations like Food Lifeline and Northwest Harvest are down. “Our largest volume of donations comes to us around the holidays,” says Linda Nageotte, president and CEO of Food Lifeline, which supports 275 food banks, meal programs and shelters throughout western Washington. The same is true for Northwest Harvest, which receives a substantial bulk of their donations during the months of November and December. 

It is just as critical during the summer months to give time and donations to these types of local organizations so they can help bridge the gap for the children. The good news is that there are things you and your children can do together to help other families in need this summer. 

Every dollar that is donated to these organizations can produce amazing results. “We can provide a meal for a family of three for $.67 because of our buying power and partnerships with local suppliers and farmers,” says Flatley. Nageotte also points out that giving a small monetary donation – which can be done easily online or by check – saves you not only time, but also gas money. Don’t just write a check, though; think up creative ways your family can raise funds together: a lemonade stand, a garage sale, a neighborhood food drive. 

When you take your next shopping trip, talk with your children about donating some of their favorite lunch items to families in need. Nageotte says that during the summer, organizations like Food Lifeline are especially looking for nutritious foods for children’s lunches, such as peanut butter, soups and chili, 100 percent fruit juice, and individual servings of hummus for healthy snacking. Flatley agrees that is always great to have donations of food that your family loves because every family is different, and the items you select may be just what another family is looking for. She suggests items like tuna, canned fruits and vegetables and soups with protein, all of which make for easy lunches. 

And, don’t forget the littlest clients of these organizations: infants and toddlers. Northwest Harvest has designated every Thursday as Baby Day at their Cherry Street Food Bank, offering items exclusively for children 5 years old and under, and their families. They first began having Baby Day more than twenty-five years ago in response to the plight of a client so desperate for food for her infant that she was feeding the child coffee creamers from a restaurant. Donations of the high-cost, but oh so critical, items that young children need are always in high demand, including baby formula, diapers and baby food. The next time you spot a great sale or find a BOGO coupon for your favorite baby item, think about picking up some extra to donate. 

Donating your time is equally as important during the busy summer months. “Our highest need for volunteers is August and September, when so many people are on vacation and families are gearing up for the start of school,” says Flatley. Both Food Lifeline and Northwest Harvest are looking for new volunteers; children can volunteer with their parents, turning the act of giving into a family affair. Food Lifeline has volunteer opportunities for kids as young as 6 years old, so you and your children can get involved together. They also welcome parents that would like to host a birthday party for their child at either of the organization’s two warehouses. After celebrating with cake, children can participate in kid-friendly activities that allow them to learn about food, giving back, and why it is important. At Northwest Harvest, kids as young as third graders can also roll up their sleeves alongside their parents and help out – sorting or packaging food, distributing items to food bank clients or preparing sandwiches for snack lunches. 

How Your Family Can Help

To learn more about volunteer opportunities at Northwest Harvest, you can complete a volunteer form online at www.northwestharvest.org, email volunteer@northwestharvest.org or call 206-923-7453. To volunteer at Food Lifeline go to www.foodlifeline.org and visit the “Helping Out” page or call 206-545-6600, ext. 3616. 

If you are interested in holding your own food drive, Northwest Harvest offers tips and tools on their website at www.northwestharvest.org or you can contact the food drive coordinator at 206-923-7421. If you and your family would like to drop off a food donation, you can visit both organizations’ websites to find a location near you; or, make a monetary donation online. Checks payable to Food Lifeline can be sent to 1702 N.E. 150th St., Shoreline, WA 98155 and checks payable to Northwest Harvest can be sent to P.O. Box 12272, Seattle, WA 98102.

Help When You Need It 

Only 10 percent of children who participate in subsidized school meals access free summer meals, which creates an even greater need for families struggling to put enough food on the table. If your family could use additional assistance this season, you should know that there are many local resources available to help you and your children have a safe and healthy summer. 

Summer Meals Program

The Summer Meals Program (federal Summer Food Service Program) is a federal nutrition program that provides free meals and snacks to kids and teens during the summer months. Summer meal sites are located in schools, recreation centers, community-based organizations, faith-based organizations, and camps. The program begins at the end of the school year, and ends in the fall when school begins. All kids and teens, 18 years old and younger, are eligible for the program, regardless of income. The 2013 summer schedule will begin after school ends in June. Find locations near you through the resource finger at Parent Help 123, a program of Within Reach at https://resources.parenthelp123.org/service/summer-meals or by calling the Family Food Hotline at 1-888-436-6392. 

The USDA Free Meal Program for children that is sponsored by Metro Parks Tacoma serves a free Subway lunch to those in need Monday through Friday at 11 sites throughout Tacoma.

Parent Help 123

In addition to the Summer Meals Program directory, Parent Help 123 also offers resources to learn more about the Basic Food program (food stamps), school meals programs, local food banks and so much more. Visit www.parenthelp123.org

Kids Café

Food Lifeline recently launched Kids Café to provide kid-friendly meals during summer months at locations like community centers and schools across Washington. A full directory of locations will be available online in June at www.foodlifeline.org/hunger/solutions/KidsCafe.html

Washington State 211

The Washington Information Network 2-1-1 (WIN 211) – a coalition of existing local providers of information and referral services and local United Ways from every region of the state – is another resource for parents looking for resources around meal assistance, health care and housing. You can visit www.win211.org or call 2-1-1 and get connected toll-free with a specialist in your area that can help connect you with resources near you, including local food banks, hot meals programs, transitional housing, legal aid, primary care clinics and more.

Photo credit: Kids Café at Food Lifeline.

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