As local non-profit and government agencies address food availability in Del Norte County, an Oakland-based organization has released a report showing that many needy children missed out last summer on the meals they received during school year.
According to its report “School’s Out ... Who Ate?”, California Food Policy Advocates estimates that 90 percent of the Del Norte students who received free or reduced-price lunches during the school year, some 1,370 children, are having to look elsewhere for their lunches during the summer.
The organization found that statewide 83 percent — 2.1 million kids who participated in the federally funded lunch program during the school year — went without lunches during the summer of 2012.
“That comes from the California Department of Education,” said Matthew Sharp, senior advocate at CFPA’s Los Angeles office. “Nearly 2,000 (students in Del Norte) are eating subsidized meals during the school year, but very few are eating during the summer.”
CFPA is working with Food For People in Eureka and, to a lesser extent, Rural Human Services in Crescent City to equip them with policies and programs that can be implemented locally, Sharp said. This includes figuring out the best way of providing access to federal and state-funded nutrition programs, he said.
This summer, children had access to free breakfast and lunch at Joe Hamilton and Smith River elementary schools and Del Norte High School. Del Norte Unified School District’s Seamless Summer Feed Program served 4,104 meals, said Deborah Kravitz, the district’s nutritional services director. But that program ended July 12, she said.
“We tied it to summer school,” Kravitz said. “In other words, when summer school finishes, then we have finished our program.”
Children ranging from preschoolers at Little School of the Redwoods to high-schoolers making up school credits received a traditional breakfast with fresh fruit in the mornings, Kravitz said. At lunchtime, there was a salad bar with greens, fresh fruits and other veggies as well as an entree. Parents, grandparents and day-care providers even brought their charges for breakfast and lunch, she said.
Even though she considers this year’s breakfast and summer lunch program to be successful, Kravitz, who read CFPA’s report, said she would like to expand the program next summer and bring in more partners.
“We know we have a very high population of students who depend on school meals for at least two of their meals — breakfast and lunch,” Kravitz said. “And what happens to them during the summer is a big question mark, and it’s a concern. We know children need good food all year long, even when they’re not in school.”
Meanwhile, the local Community Food Policy Council is working to identify and close other gaps in the local community food system, said Geneva Wiki, executive director of the Wild Rivers Community Foundation. To help do this, Rural Human Services, Building Healthy Communities, the Del Norte County Department of Health and Human Services and other members of the Council are seeking a food systems analyst.
The analyst would work with local policy-makers and community stakeholders to secure new resources from public and private entities to strengthen Del Norte’s food availability, according to the Council’s job description.
“The idea of the Community Food Council is that we bring stakeholders and experts together to have a better understanding of the entire community’s food system to identify resources and opportunities and the gaps,” Wiki said. “And often as we start to impact the issues, we find there are policy issues underlying the problem. And sometimes there are perceived policy barriers that aren’t actually barriers.”
One perceived policy barrier was introducing salad bars to local schools, Wiki said. Food Policy Council representatives addressed that by working with school district officials and classified employees.
Another accomplishment of the Food Policy Council was when the school district’s Harvest Of the Month program featured beets from Ocean Air Farms out in Fort Dick, Wiki said.
“It was the first time a local farmer had a local product (in the program),” she said. “It took a year-plus of planning — farmers have to plan crops a long time ahead of time. Between Deborah Kravitz and (Ocean Air Farms co-owner) Paul Madeira, they were able to navigate those systems and policies in order to make that happen.”
To access California Food Policy Advocate’s report, visit cfpa.net/sowa-2013.