Although the school year has ended, dozens of teenagers and children can still be found munching down breakfast and lunch at the Brookings-Harbor High School cafeteria this summer thanks to the annual summer food program.
For Sarah Hansen, a mother of two who has participated in the summer food program the past two years, the program not only provides proper nutrition for her kids, but has also eased the strain on her wallet.
“I’ve saved $60 in groceries every week because of this program,” said Hansen.
The program is meant to serve as a stopgap between school years for children who eat free or reduced-price school meals by providing students 18 years and under with free, nutritious meals.
“The purpose of the program is basically, kids that are out and about on the streets playing, can come in and have a breakfast or lunch for free,” said Food Service Director Cindy Badger. “Parents, caretakers, they can come in, bring their kids to eat.
“Basically, it’s just provided continued nutritional food for the kids, throughout the summertime when their classes are not in session.”
For children, it’is as simple as walking into the cafeteria and loading up a tray of food. There’s no need for any forms or proof of income. Adults and parents are welcome as well, and only need to pay a small fee of $2.50 for breakfast and $3.75 for lunch.
“Every kid that comes in and eat, all we do is headcount. We don’t ask questions,” said Badger. “The more kids that we feed, the more benefits and funding we get to provide the food.”
The Summer Food Service Program for Children was first created in Congress in 1968, and is funded by the US Department of Agriculture. The Oregon Department of Education administers the program at the state state level, while a number of community groups and organizations operate it at the local level. One of the organizations working with the Oregon Department of Education to expand access to the Summer Food Service Program is Partners for a Hunger Free Oregon (PHFO), a group that raises awareness about hunger, connects people to nutrition programs, and advocates for “systemic changes” that ends hunger before it begins.
According to the PHFO, hunger remains a pervasive issue in Oregon despite the fact that it has been steadily decreasing in the U.S. Per a report from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), almost one in six Oregon households (16.1 percent) were “food insecure” between 2013-2015. THe PHFO notes that food insecurity can lead to several consequences in a community: children may perform poorer in school and develop behavioral issues, and seniors are more prone to developing asthma or suffer a heart attack.
Brookings-Harbor High is one of more than 600 summer meal sites operating in Oregon this year to address hunger problems. Last year, 2,066,023 free meals were served by the program, but the number is still relatively small. According to the Oregon Department of Education, only 1 in 5 students who use the free and reduced-price meals in the school year consume summer meals.
“Usually we have a decent turnout, but I’d like to have more of a turnout,” Badger said. “We have Harbor, and there’s a lot more kids that could probably really benefit from the program. I’m hoping in the long-run, we can start doing bus routes to maybe hit those areas (where) they’re wanting to come over and eat.”
Breakfast and lunch comes with a food bar that includes fruits, 100 percent fruit juices, sunbutter, jelly, bread, vegetables, legumes, cottage cheese, garden-to-table veggies and more. All meals come with 1 percent white milk or nonfat flavored milk.
The summer food program runs from Mondays to Thursdays until Aug. 3. Breakfast is from 8 a.m. to 8:45 a.m., while lunch is from 11:45 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Curry County residents can also participate in the program at Riley Creek Elementary in Gold Beach. Lunch is served Monday to Thursday from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., and the program runs until Aug. 10.