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Hunger Relief for Kids in Need

July 29, 2013
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When Michelle Mateo’s family went through hard times, they relied on food stamps and CalWorks benefits. Food started to feel like a luxury. “Food is at the center of the com-munity, whether you have it, whether you don’t have it or you’re trying to get it,” said Mateo, an Alameda County mom. Communities across the state are working to improve children’s access to healthy food in an effort to reduce food disparities among children. An estimated 16% of California families experience food insecurity, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). On the local level, the Alameda County Community Food Bank also reports that 1 in 6 Alameda county residents visit their food pantries and other programs each year. Food disparities limit families’ access to healthy food because of barriers such as income, lack of nutritious food options and transportation difficulties. Innovative programs across the state are addressing these barriers for kids by connecting schools with local farms, offering nutritious free summer lunches and family-sized food bags for weekend meals.

Farm-to-School Program

In an effort to address the issue, the the Fresno Unified School District has been creating innovative ways to not only provide breakfast and lunch, but also introduce students to the freshest produce by buying from local farmers with their Farm-to-School Program. The students experience local, freshly grown strawberries, broccoli, citrus and other fruits and vegetables—thanks to the district’s Farm-to-School program. “Children are more apt to eat things with flavor, they want it and ask for it,” said Kara Lang with Ag Innovations Network.

Summer Lunch Programs for Kids

As summer approaches, it can be challenging for families trying to keep kids fed. For most of the year, schools play a key role. Communities around the state are working to address this gap by serving free, healthy summer meals to kids through the USDA’s Summer Lunch Program in which identification or proof of legal status is unnecessary. “It sounds dramatic to say that this might be the only meal that kids get, but it’s really true,” said Carmela Chase, program specialist with the City of Oakland’s Summer Lunch Program. “They really depend on this food.”

Alameda Community Food Bank

One in three children in Alameda County face the threat of hunger each day, according to the Food Bank. Out of the 49,000 individuals the Food Bank serves every week, 43% are ages zero to 17. To address that problem, the Food Bank created an innovative program called Children’s BackPack, which is now in its seventh year. This program provides a family-sized bag of non-perishable food on weekends to kids. In its fiscal year 2012, the Food Bank said it delivered 34,310 bags of food to 24 schools across the county. The Food Bank also provides an array of services, including food stamp outreach, mobile pantries, and an emergency food helpline and nutrition education.

How to Find Food Assistance

• California Association of Food Banks provides details on your local food bank, which may offer emergency food, 866-321-4435, www.cafoodbanks.org. • CalFresh provides food stamps. Contact your county welfare department or apply online at www.benefitscal.org. • Women, Infants and Children, call 888-942-9675 or visit http://ow.ly/leeNL. • School Meals Program offers free and reduced-price meals. Apply through your child’s school district. • Summer Food Program: For a list of local sites, call 211 or visit www.summerlunch.org. • Head Start offers nutritious meals as part of its child care program. Visit www.benefits.gov/benefits/benefit-details/1899. • USDA provides an overview of various food programs and eligibility requirements. Visit www.fns.usda.gov/cga/ Publications/Consumer Brochure.pdf. Also available in Spanish at www.fns.usda.gov/cga/Publications/sp- ConsumerBrochure.pdf.