As a country, we idealize the long summer days of our childhood when we played outside, explored our neighborhoods and had no worries. Not every child has that same summer experience. When you get two meals and a healthy snack at school each day and struggle for enough on the weekends, facing summer is not as exciting. Community Kitchen of Monroe County – located in Bloomington, Indiana – works to reach as many children struggling with this situation in the summer as possible.
Child Nutrition Reauthorization is necessary to make sure that programs like the federal Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) exist to help feed the most vulnerable children in our communities. Those pieces are essential. But in Monroe County we are excited about the chance to re-examine this legislation and hope that legislators enhance it, because the truth is in semi-rural areas like ours, the congregate-style service requirements currently required by SFSP are not conducive to reaching the largest number of children.
During the summer, we deliver food to many low-income neighborhoods that don’t have and are not located near places that will work as congregate serving sites. For many years, we delivered those meals ice-cream truck style, stopping in front of every other building in an apartment complex or every few trailers in a mobile home park. However, to reach more children in need, we began seeking reimbursement from SFSP. To qualify we had to amend that practice to something that functioned a little more like a congregate site. However, this model impacted participation.
We encounter too many children whose caregivers say they have to come right back to the apartment. The state requirements for SFSP would disqualify that child’s meal from reimbursement. Additionally, transportation can be a problem – leaving many children unable to get to the sites at all.
After years of trying to compromise with our SFSP monitors to find a way to maximize the children we could reach and satisfy the congregate style requirements, we’ve decided it’s time for a change. We will still conduct several congregate sites in conjunction with summer youth programs, but will revert most of our neighborhoods back to the old way. We will not allow another hungry child to be told that he can’t have that meal if he doesn’t eat it in front of us.
It’s a conscious priority that it is more important to us to reach the maximum number of hungry children than it is to ensure reimbursement for all of the meals we serve. We’re going back to our community to ask for support to feed more children in a way that gets the food to them where they are, even though it means no reimbursement.
However, we know we cannot feed all the hungry children during the summer alone. We need assistance through the Summer Food Service Program. That is why we hope that Congress will not only reauthorize it the child nutrition programs but will also adjust some of the SFSP requirements to help agencies in areas like ours and those in even more rural areas, feed these most vulnerable children. When a five-year old dressed in only a pair of shorts in a rural low-income neighborhood chases the delivery van to ask, “You’ll come back tomorrow?” how could you answer with anything other than a resounding, “Yes!”
*Vicki Pierce is the executive director of Community Kitchen of Monroe County, Inc.
*Photos courtesy of Community Kitchen of Monroe County, Inc.