Summer Lunch Program helps families in need

June 25, 2013

By Erin Hoffman

While many kids are eager for school to end, for some families, summer means having to stretch every dollar to keep food on the table.

For parents of children receiving free or reduced-priced lunches through the Issaquah School District, having their kids out of school can increase the family’s financial burden. The number of families in need has been on a steady rise for the past five years, according to Sara Niegowski, executive director of communication with the ISD, who said 10.3 percent of students are currently in the program, up from 6.9 percent in 2007.

Created by the Issaquah Food & Clothing Bank with help from Eastridge Church three years ago, the Summer Lunch Program provides families of children in the Issaquah School District with a week’s worth of breakfasts and lunches. This year, the program will run every Tuesday from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. through Aug. 20.

The program began three years ago, said Z Tyree, student ministries director at Eastridge. The church was looking for ways to serve the community and they found that the food bank was trying to start the Summer Lunch Program. The food bank had the donations, but lacked the staff, and so members of Eastridge dove right in. Today, Eastridge organizes all of the volunteers and coordinates the distribution of lunches so the food bank can focus on getting food and managing registration.

“Together, we can do so much more work,” said Cori Walters, the executive director of the food bank.

The goal of the program is to “fill the gap” in the summer between school years, when kids aren’t getting fed at school, Walters said, but the Summer Lunch Program doesn’t give people a typical food bank experience. Instead of a solemn line of families waiting for a bag of groceries, Eastridge and the food bank provide fun and educational activities on the greenway across from the food bank.

“I really think Cori designed it in a way that gives dignity to these families,” Tyree said.

To receive food, parents can print and fill out an application on the food bank’s website, or they can fill it out on-site and receive food the same day. Pre-registration is not necessary. Children can hang out and play in the park while parents pick up their groceries at tables set up on the greenway. Each lunch bag also contains a fun activity, and this year, Walters said the program will provide all of the kids with pedometers and challenge them to take as many steps as they can this summer.

“People love it,” Walters said. “We really focus on physical activity and nutrition, and people are excited that the food bank thinks about health.”

Walters said that the community has been supportive of the new program, and many other local organizations are getting involved. New this summer, Issaquah Library representatives will come to the events to read to kids, and the Seattle Tilth in partnership with Pickering Barn will teach gardening classes.

Residents have also gotten involved through food and monetary donations, and last year, between 75 and 100 volunteers came out to help.

“We know the community wants to help us in the way we need help the most,” Walters said.

“The Issaquah community really does want to help,” agreed Lisette Murrell, Eastridge Cares director. “They just roll up their sleeves and serve how they can.”

Murrell said she and Walters are looking for ways to incorporate other volunteers and church groups. In the meantime, Murrell encourages anyone looking to get involved to visit the food bank website, where the home page lists current donation needs, and to sign up on Eastridge’s online volunteer calendar if they want to pitch in.

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