It’s all about feeding kids, no questions asked.
In both Enumclaw and Buckley, the Summer Food Service Program is about to launch, offering meals every weekday to those 18 and younger. Anyone who arrives are provided a balanced meal without being asked about family income, their school status or even where they live.
Workers set up in highly-visible, public locations – the Enumclaw library and Buckley Youth Center – to contact as many young folks as possible. And, while the program is rooted in a desire to reach kids in low-income areas, no one is turned away for any reason.
In Enumclaw, the summer program – which includes breakfast and lunch – will begin June 26 and operate through Aug. 25. In Buckley, where lunch is served along with an afternoon snack, the program began Tuesday, June 18, and will continue through Aug. 30.
In both communities, the summer meals are coordinated through the school districts. In Enumclaw, meals are prepared at Enumclaw High School and delivered to the library, where district employees set up in a small outdoor courtyard. Things are a bit different in Buckley, where meals are prepped in the district administration building and delivered to the Youth Center by district employees. The serving, however, is done by Youth Center staff.
ENUMCLAW: IT’S ALL HANDLED BY THE DISTRICT
It was five years ago that Enumclaw jumped into summer meals, choosing to offer both breakfast and lunch. At the highest level, it is mandated that a sponsoring agency offer food twice a day.
Tracy Holyan, who runs the district’s food service program, credits Superintendent Mike Nelson with pushing for the summer program.
Aside from giving kids a nutritionally-balanced meal they might otherwise miss, Nelson touts a second reason for providing meals, one tied to the district’s educational mission. “Consistent nutrition is an important factor in brain development and learning,” he said.
In Enumclaw, Holyan explains, everything is handled by a pair of district employees. Meals are prepared at the high school, then loaded into a district truck and delivered by a pair of employees who set up and hand out the food twice a day.
During the first summer of operation, Enumclaw meals were served on the lawn at City Hall. That soon changed to the outdoor courtyard area at the Enumclaw library which has been a prime location, Holyan said. The area is enclosed, offers plenty of seating and has an indoor option if the weather turns nasty.
“The library has been a wonderful partner,” Holyan said.
She noted the lunchtime crowd typically runs between 50 and 60 kids, while the number showing up for breakfast is closer to 30.
Echoing the theme behind the program, Holyan said her approach is, “the more the merrier.” Like elsewhere, no one is asked to show a proof of residence. If someone is 18 or younger, they get a meal.
Holyan’s only complaint is that not enough kids are being helped. She has, for years, wanted to start an identical program in Black Diamond but the numbers simply don’t work in her favor.
The Summer Food Program takes its data from the U.S. census and information from Black Diamond and the surrounding area show there’s not enough need to support the program. The USDA would not reimburse any of the cost if the school district expanded to Black Diamond.
BUCKLEY HAS A DIFFERENT APPROACH
The White River School District contracts with Sodexo, a national operation, for all its food programs; that includes the Summer Food Service Program.
In charge of everything food-related is Dreher Reed, a Sodexo employee who works from space in the lower level of the administration building. He’s the only one in food service drawing a paycheck from Sodexo, as all others are district employees.
As a trained chef who shifted to management some 20 years ago, Reed admits the learning curve was “huge” when he transitioned from corporate work to a public school system.
This year, he estimates the district will be preparing about 65 meals daily. The lunches, by USDA mandate, must include five components: meat (or a meat alternative), fruit, vegetables, grains and dairy. Those receiving the meals can pick and choose to some degree, he said, but must take something from at least three of the five components.
The afternoon snacks, served between 2:30 and 3 p.m., are healthy but smaller. The offering could be as simple as a piece of fruit or granola bar. It’s not meant to replace a meal, Reed said, but just to keep kids fueled up.
Because the meal program is tied to the Buckley Youth Center, steps were taken this year to mesh schedules to the mutual benefit of both operations. Instead of offering programs after meals are served, programs will take place prior to lunch. The hope, Reed said, is that more youngsters will take advantage of both the free lunch and Youth Center offerings.
District Superintendent Jenell Keating-Hambly is a big fan of the program.
“They’re our kids, our families,” she said, explaining how the program hits so close to home.
Her dedication to serving kids was briefly tested this month when she discovered the Summer Meal Program was slated to begin June 24. The problem, both she and Youth Center staff noted, was that school lets out June 18. That meant some needy kids would go a week without the assurance of lunch.
“I went into problem-solving mode,” the superintendent said, and quickly determined that meals could be funded through the kindness of individuals and groups. Eventually, that wasn’t necessary as Reed contacted the state and had the beginning date pushed up to the 18th.
SERIOUS ABOUT RULES
The Summer Food Service Program can appear easy-going in some respects – again, there are no questions asked – but there’s a long list of rules being followed.
Employees are expected to adhere to the established time slots, so showing up early or arriving late is frowned upon. Exact counts are kept because sponsors are reimbursed for every meal served. Food cannot be taken off-site because the program emphasizes a safe and supervised environment. And the meals are strictly for the younger set; food is not to be shared with parents or guardians.
A violation could put a well-meaning program at risk.