The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Feeding needy kids a struggle in summer
BY LINDLEY ESTES
For children who receive free or reduced-price school lunches, hunger doesn’t stop when summer starts and classes are out.
Only a fraction of the more than 30 million low-income children who receive free or reduced-price meals through the National School Lunch Program attend summer school and receive those meals through the Summer Food Service Program, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture program’s website.
Fredericksburg-area food banks and services are struggling to keep up with the increased demand for food during the summer when donations can be down by as much as 75 percent.
Stafford County especially is feeling the strain of the summer vacation season at a time when summer school classes have been curtailed.
Marilyn Stevens, director of SERVE at Stafford Courthouse said, “Summer is always a huge strain. Kids are not getting breakfast and lunch at school plus donations go way down with people going on vacations and doing things with their families. Even at church the congregation has less in the summer.”
For the first time this summer, SERVE has prepared 400 supplemental bags of food for families with children. It did this with help from the Fredericksburg Area Food Bank and donations from the community.
“It’s all things you can make meals of,” she said, “like pasta and macaroni and cheese. There are Rice Krispies.
“I would really love to have a treat for the children though, something they would be excited about,” Stevens said. “I would love to have cookies to give out.”
One parent who received a bag of food this summer was Sharon Legrand of Stafford.
She said that the food really helps.
“I work and my paycheck covers my rent,” she said. “It’s hard to feed a 14-year-old who is a growing boy.”
Stevens said the parents have been excited to receive the bags.
“They have gotten used to the struggle of the summer,” she said. “There is an overall thankfulness for something they didn’t ask for.”
SERVE normally helps about 100 visitors per week.
Stevens said the need in the community is still growing and so is the need for donations. In the last six months they saw an increase from 25 to 35 visitors per day.
A few months ago they held a food drive during which 10 tons of food was collected. It has all been given out.
Oya Oliver, president of the Fredericksburg Area Food Bank, said the organization serves an average of 3,000 people per week through agencies such as SERVE.
“If there is a need and a place, we can partner with them in any way we can in the summer,” she said.
For the first time this summer, the food bank provided prepacked lunches through their mobile pantry to summer schools in Caroline County. The lunches fed 295 students for five weeks.
Oliver said it turned out well and they hope to do programs like this again. However, the Spotsylvania-based food bank had to absorb the costs. Oliver is looking for grants and donations to fund other programs like this.
She also said that the food bank needs partners for summer feeding.
“We need a place for children to come and receive food,” she said.
Oliver said that the lack of school-run food drives also is a concern during the summer.
Bragg Hill Family Life Center in Fredericksburg also has a summer feeding program. The program, sponsored by the USDA, has been in operation for 15 years and allows more than 100 children in the Fredericksburg area to be fed breakfast and lunch each day.
The program is an open site, meaning any child who needs to be fed can come.
The Rev. Joseph Henderson of the center said, “It’s important that we fill that gap and can help parents.”
Some programs, such as Stafford Junction, have not been to fill the gap as easily.
“When we heard that Stafford County was not going to offer summer school we were devastated,” said Stafford Junction executive director Linda Hill.
Hill said that all of the children they serve are on free- or reduced-price lunches and a lot of them went to summer school.
The Junction’s summer program offers “an alternate to roaming around neighborhoods and helps keep them out of trouble.” But the program relies on the schools to provide lunch.
“Last summer we were able to have the camp in the afternoon after summer school,” she said. “Now it’s just one day per week and we feed children lunch that one day.”
Along with feeding about 35 children one day per week, they provide transportation to other camps in the area.
“The issue of food hangs over us all of the time,” Hill said.
HELPING THE CAUSE
Donations are always welcome to area food banks and pantries, especially during the summer when the need increases and donations decrease.
Cindy See of SERVE said that peanut butter and jelly are good staples since they can be used for multiple meals.
SERVE will sponsor two “Stuff the Truck” events this summer. Trucks will be parked outside of area supermarkets so that shoppers may donate whatever they can.
The first is 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at the Town and Country Giant off White Oak Road. The second will be at the Giant off State Route 610 and Worth Avenue from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Aug. 25.
The Fredericksburg Area Food Bank is holding a fundraiser at the Ruby Tuesday at Central Park Tuesday through Thursday. During this event the restaurant will give 20 percent of each check to the food bank.
Lindley Estes: 540/735-1976