Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Overcoming spatial challenges to feed rural kids in the summer

Pam Fessler reported today for NPR from Hopkins County, Kentucky (population 46,920) on how USDA programs are helping keep kids from low-income families fed over the summer.  I have written before about the challenges of adapting school-lunch type programs for low income kids to keep the summer nutrition programs running when school is not in session and the kids are thus not at a central locale, which eases food distribution logistics.  Fessler reports that government agencies and non-profits are "doing some creative things" to feed "millions of meals to kids who might otherwise go hungry."

Fessler describes Hopkins County as "mostly farms and coal fields and gently rolling hills," which leave children "widely dispersed and often isolated" when school is not in session.  
That makes it a challenge for the local YMCA. It's feeding about 700 children a day this summer, mostly at central sites like camps and parks. But increasingly, it's using mobile units to get food to some of the harder-to-reach areas in the county. 
One of the units is a red pick-up truck, with two Y employees in front and several coolers of food in the back. One of its first stops of the day is a Baptist church in the small town of Earlington. 
Church volunteer Don Egbert is waiting inside for the lunch delivery — about 20 pork barbeque sandwiches, carrots, strawberries and milk.
Fessler also describes this vignette at the Earlington church:
No sooner is the food set out on a long table at the church, when two little girls rush in.
Kiarra and Ciara Crook, ages 7 and 8, live right around the corner. 
Egbert says they come to the church for lunch every day, like clockwork. 
"Well, we don't have any food at home, " explains Ciara, adding that her mother works, but only gets paid once a month.
Under the USDA summer nutrition program, "any child who shows up gets a free lunch. No questions asked. The kids just have to live in an area where more than half the children qualify for free-or reduced price meals at school," which includes most of Hopkins County, which has a poverty rate of 19.5%. Fessler features Ed Wallace,  executive director of the Hopkins County Family YMCA, who "has a map on his wall, where he's circled in black marker what he calls 'pockets of poverty' — areas where kids not only lack money, but often transportation to get to other sites or grocery stores."  The YMCA uses four mobile routes to target hard-to-reach areas of the county.  Wallace comments:
We stop, feed them, make sure they're eating then we move on to the next site. 
I am impressed at the many agencies and individuals making this food delivery possible--including the critical USDA funding.

In sharp contrast, I noted this announcement in my hometown newspapers, The Newton County Times,  back on June 4, 2014:
The Jasper School District campuses will be serving summer meals free to anyone 18 and younger beginning June 9 through August 1, Monday through Friday. 
Breakfast is served from 8:30 to 9 am.  Lunch is served from 11 am to 12 pm.   
Meals will not be served on the Independence Day holiday.  
The school district has two campuses in addition to the one in Jasper.  The others are Kingston (in Madison County) and Oark (in Johnson County).  Still, the program as run by Jasper School counts on the kids being able to get to a central location, which doesn't do much good for those in outlying areas.    

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