Summer hunger

During summer months, many area children are forced to confront hunger on a daily basis, when there’s no school and they might not have adequate access to food.

Ohio officials are looking for additional sponsors and sites for the federally funded Summer Food Service Program, which provides free meals to students during summer months. The Ohio Department of Education, likewise, is hoping for more as well, despite serving around 60,000 Ohio students each day last year.

Some local agencies are already helping to combat childhood hunger with the program, by offering more than 30 sites across Washington County for children to get free food.

The thought on whether or not Washington County needs more food sites is mixed; some think the need for more is there, while others think an adequate job is being done already.

Washington-Morgan Community Action director David Brightbill said the organization gave out 3,000 meals last summer.

“That’s about 2,100 at our sites and almost 900 on weekend meals,” he said. He said the weekend meals are non-perishable and include two breakfasts, two lunches and two dinners.

Brightbill said site locations are in Beverly, New Matamoras and McConnelsville.

Ohio Rep. Andy Thompson, R-Marietta, said there were some challenges to making meals available for rural areas.

“The challenge in rural areas is getting people to food,” he said, but added that there is an array of organizations that can help if the need is urgent, such as Community Action or Harvest of Hope.

New Matamoras Elementary School Principal Bill Wotring said based on the free and reduced lunch count, there is a great need for summer feeding programs.

“If you take the free and reduced (lunch) count as an indicator substantiating a need for it, we’re at about 63 percent,” he said. “That’s a good bit…so that in itself indicates that certainly there is a need.”

Wotring said though the need is there, it might not be viable to have a second location, as the first is centralized at the old New Matamoras Elementary School.

“Is there a need, there might be,” he said. “But is it reasonable, that would be a stretch.”

Scott Kratche, principal of Washington Elementary School said about 65 percent of students there rely on the reduced lunches.

“Our building is the highest percentage of economically disadvantaged,” he said.

Parents rely on the summer programs, Kratche said.

John Charlton, associate director of communications for the Ohio Department of Education, said eligibility for the program is determined by filling out forms.

“Eligibility is based on income,” he said, adding that those who qualify for the National School Lunch Program are eligible.

Charlton said most school districts across the state send out forms before summer begins so that children can get signed up for the summer program.

The deadline for potential sponsors to apply is March 1, which is done through an online survey at the Ohio Department of Education’s website. Charlton said the sponsors must be a nonprofit organization “that provides services to the community year round, they must be financially viable and can’t have been disqualified from any other federal program.” Another qualifier is that the organization must be in an area where 50 percent of the children qualify for the reduced or free meals.

Bob Sheridan, administrative assistant at the Ely Chapman Center said the organization will participate again this summer.

“We’re definitely doing it and we’ll push nutritious meals,” he said, adding that the program would run from the day after school lets out for the summer in Marietta until the Friday before school starts again in the fall.

Breakfast and lunch will be served to area children. Last year about 5,400 meals were served, which amounted to about 100 meals each day.

Another area organization, Miss Peggy’s House, sponsors more than 30 sites across Washington, Meigs, Jackson, Gallia and Tuscarawas counties.

“The need was out there and I was being contacted,” said Toni Teters, administrator for the organization. “We had the availability to serve those areas through outreach service.”

Teters said hunger is evident throughout not just the county, but statewide and nationally.

“I receive new calls every year to add additional sites,” she said. “We try to add a couple of sites per year.”

So far, Miss Peggy’s has about 33 sites set up. About 25,000 meals were served last summer.

Mindy Harding, director for Noble County Jobs and Family Services, said to her knowledge there were no sites available in the county through the federal lunch program.

“I think it would be nice to have in our county,” she said.

Calls to the Morgan County Jobs and Family Services were not returned Thursday, nor were calls to the Switzerland of Ohio School District, which manages the summer program in Monroe County. The Ohio Department of Education’s site has no meal sites listed for either county.

Thompson said he is glad that Washington County is doing so much to help those in need, especially children.

“I feel good that Washington County is aware of the problem,” he said. “I feel pretty encouraged that Washington County has it together (and sees the need)…We’re doing a good job of bringing people to the table.”