Filling the Gap: Food Resources for Families During Winter Break
Written by Rebecca Wolfe, WithinReach AmeriCorps Specialist
The holiday season is a fun and festive time, with parties to attend, gifts to shop for, and large meals to be shared. For many families, however, this can be a struggle. Free and reduced-price school meals have become a major source of nutrition for many children, and families often struggle to provide adequate food when these resources disappear over the winter holiday. As of the 2016-2017 school year, 473,309 students in Washington public schools were enrolled. That’s almost 43% of the student population. In Washington State, 1 in 5 children are a part of a household that struggles to put food on the table. For these kids, a school break can often make breakfast and lunch much harder to come by.
Here are a few ways to help fill in the gap:
Basic Food: If you are looking for food assistance, your household may be eligible for the Basic Food program, also known as SNAP, food stamps, and EBT. This program can be an excellent resource for families during the holidays and year-around. Your EBT card operates like a debit card and is loaded with a monetary benefit each month that can be used to purchase food. Most major grocery stores, including Safeway, QFC, Trader Joe’s, and Target, as smaller local and international markets are able to accept the funds.
Rollover Funds: An additional benefit of EBT is that unused funds will roll over from month to month. You can save up some extra dollars in anticipation of the winter holiday when the kids are home from school. You can also save up your EBT benefit to purchase a special holiday meal if you would like to. This is often particularly helpful for households with a low benefit amount. A $16 monthly benefit might not seem like much, but it can certainly add up over time and make it much easier to get food on the table over the holiday.
Fresh Bucks: Here in King County, we have an additional benefit to the Basic Food program called Fresh Bucks. The Fresh Bucks program doubles your dollars at farmers’ markets and some international markets nearby. When your $10 becomes $20, dinner is much more doable. Just swipe your EBT card at the information booth and you are on your way.
Food Banks: Food banks have gotten something of a bad rap over the years, reported to offer up a whole lot of canned goods and little else. While you can still get a can of beans if you would like to, many food banks have expanded far beyond this limited stock. In fact, many go out of their way to provide special holiday treats, such as egg-nog, candy canes, and spiral ham. Many also offer a wide range of produce, grains, meats, and other useful holiday items such as greeting cards and flowers. Just be sure to bring an ID and proof of address, such as a recent bill, so they can verify that you are utilizing the food bank meant for your zip code.
If you are interested in learning more about food resources for your family while the kids are off from school, please give us a call! We are available to answer questions and assist with applications via our Family Health Hotline at 1 (800) 322-2588. Our friendly staff is available from 8:00am-5:00pm Monday – Thursday, and Fridays from 8:00am-5:00pm. Additionally, if you need help locating a food bank or farmers market near you, you can also visit www.ParentHelp123.org
Happy Holidays from us here at WithinReach!
The Ins and Outs of Basic Food
Written by Signe Burchim, WithinReach AmeriCorps Outreach & Enrollment Specialist
One of the many programs that our talented Outreach and Enrollment team assists people with is the Basic Food program. Basic Food, formerly known as food stamps, is Washington’s version of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP) program. The program helps families (and individuals) supplement their grocery budget each month and put more wholesome, delicious food on the table.
So how does this program actually work?
For starters, long gone are the days of the program being administered on actual stamps, or paper: the benefits are administered on a plastic electronic benefits transfer card (typically called an EBT card), that looks just like a debit card, and comes with a pin number. Each month, benefits are loaded onto your card on the same day and are ready to use!
2017 Income guidelines (effective 4/1/2017):
Oftentimes, we hear from clients that they are hesitant to sign up for the basic food program for a number of reasons. Unfortunately, there are quite a few misconceptions floating around, and I would like to clear some of those up!
Some of the most common things we hear from clients:
“I’m not eligible because I don’t have a family” – You do not have to have a family, or children to be on basic food. If you are single, as long as you meet all of the other requirements, you are eligible for the program.
“I’m not eligible because I am a college student” – Students are not typically eligible for the program but there are some exceptions.
- Students employed for an average of 20 hours per week (80 hours per month).
– Unpaid internships do not count.
- Students responsible for more than half of the care for a dependent under five.
- Students that are single parents who have a child that is eleven or younger.
- Students participating in WorkFirst.
- Students participating in a work study program.
“It is not worth signing up because I will have a low benefit amount” – Low benefit amounts may also help you qualify for other programs, like low-cost cell phone service, or free/reduced price lunch for children in school. Benefits also roll over every month, so you can save them up for something special like a holiday, or birthday party.
“Someone else needs this benefit more than I do” – Basic Food is an entitlement program, which means that anyone who is eligible can get it without taking away benefits from someone else, and unused money is not allocated to other families.
“Not everyone in my family is a citizen” – You can apply for the members in your household who meet the citizenship requirements – for example, if three people are eligible, and two are not, the three that meet the eligibility requirements would receive benefits.
“There are too many restrictions on what food you can buy” – Nope, there are no restrictions on the brands or types of food you can buy. The choice is yours! However, you cannot purchase alcohol, or hot food from the deli that has been prepared for you.
If you think you might be interested in enrolling in, or learning more about the Basic Food program, or any other nutrition assistance programs, give us a call on our Family Health Hotline at 1-800-322-2588!
When you hear “tax season,” what do you think of? Probably not anything super-positive. But what if “tax season” meant that you would be assisted by a team whose goal was to get you the best refund possible AND to explore ways to improve your quality of life? Sounds pretty good! Luckily for individuals and families in King and Snohomish counties making less than $64,000 a year, that’s exactly what the United Way Free Tax Prep Campaign does.
UWKC has been offering free tax preparation to the community since 2003, and their ultimate goal is to help put some of our hard-earned money back into our savings accounts come springtime. One of the best tools they use–one that was designed specifically to help lift low- and moderate-income houses out of poverty–is the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). This credit primarily benefits individuals and couples within certain income brackets who have qualifying dependents, although others can access it as well. Last year in their 2016 campaign, UWKC filed 21,750 returns, earning their clients about $29.1 million in refunds. Of this, $9.4 million came from the EITC.
As if having someone else doing your taxes for free isn’t enough, UWKC goes a couple steps further. First of all, their service is accessible and low-barrier, which means that those in the most need can get help. UWKC has 27 sites in King County, from Shoreline to Federal Way, out to Bellevue and Renton. These sites have varying hours and days, from early morning to late evenings and even weekends. Many of their tax preparers are bilingual, so language isn’t a roadblock for those seeking help. And for those of us who are somewhat antisocial and were reared by technology (here’s looking at you, 20-somethings), UWKC also offers an online option that will allow you to e-file yourself for free.
So where does WithinReach fit into tax returns? A simple screening questionnaire at intake can quickly determine if families feel like they have enough to eat, if they can pay their utility bills, or if they have healthcare needs. These issues are much more up our alley, and that is where we can address creating healthy futures for our community.
From November through January, our in-person team helped train the tax campaign’s Volunteer Intake & Benefits Specialists, or VIBS. These volunteers greet clients, manage paperwork, make sure everyone has the appropriate materials, and screen clients for possible programs. They then make referrals to our Healthy Connections Online portal in order for our staff to reach out and assist. We trained the VIBS on identifying food, health, and transportation needs, and some of the local public benefits that can help. This way, they can effectively screen clients for eligibility (using a handy-dandy UWKC screening tool) and make referrals to us, coaching their clients through how they will be contacted and what WithinReach can do for them. VIBS can also give clients information on utility assistance, credit pulls, and financial counseling.
Once we receive the referral from the VIBS, it is the job of our Outreach & Enrollment Specialists to reach out to the client within two business days. Once we get in contact with the client, we talk with them to determine what they feel they need and screen them for eligibility for a host of programs. There are a huge number of community resources out there, such as play and learn groups, food banks, and prescription assistance, that people aren’t accessing simply because they don’t know they exist. Our ParentHelp123 website can also be used by clients if they want to explore resources on their own.
To bring assistance even closer to these clients, our team of AmeriCorps Outreach & Enrollment Specialists will be attending four of the busier tax sites once a week through tax season– Lake City Neighborhood Service Center, Rainier Community Center, Burien Goodwill, and the Central Library. Instead of sending in a referral, our team can actually help clients on the spot.
The Tax Campaign aims to put money back into the pockets of low-income households across King county. This money can pay medical bills, help with groceries, keep the lights turned on, or be tucked away for later. This partnership between WithinReach and the UWKC tax sites aids with our own personal mission of making healthy futures attainable for families across Washington, by connecting them to the resources they need to be healthy and safe.
Basic Food Changes in 2016
Written by Maricruz Sanchez, Bilingual Outreach & Enrollment Specialist
Do I have to be working in order to qualify for Basic Food/SNAP/the Food Stamp Program?
The answer to this question has most commonly been “no,” but this is going to change starting January 1st, 2016 if you are an able bodied adult without dependents (ABAWD) living in King, Snohomish, and parts of Pierce County*. Because Washington state has seen high unemployment rates in the last few years, residents have been temporarily exempt from having to meet certain work requirements to qualify for the Basic Food (food stamps) program. The temporary suspension of this work requirement is known as the ABAWD time limit waiver. However, recent declines in the unemployment rate in the areas listed above have prompted policy changes that will reinstate work requirements; basically, ABAWDs have to be working to qualify for Basic Food starting on January 1st (although there are some exceptions).
Who counts as an ABAWD?
Generally speaking, an able-bodied adult without dependents (ABAWD) includes individuals from the age of 18 through 49 who are not responsible for the care of a child or an incapacitated household member. When the ABAWD waiver expires on January 1st, ABAWD recipients of Basic Food benefits are limited to 3 months of benefits in a 36 month period. Once that 3 month grace period is up, ABAWDs are required to meet additional work requirements in order to continue to qualify for Basic Food. The current ABAWD time limit waiver is set to expire on December 30, 2015, meaning ABAWD clients in the affected areas of King, Snohomish, and Pierce County may begin their first month of a limited 3 month food benefit in January. At the end of those three months, unless they are fulfilling the ABAWD work requirement, they will not be eligible to receive benefits again until January 1, 2018, when the current 36 month period resets.
We know this is a lot of confusing information. A major priority in preparing for this change is ensuring that all clients whose benefits could be affected have access to clear information about what to expect and how to fulfill the work requirement if necessary. To be clear, some ABAWD individuals on Basic Food can be exempt from work requirements. This includes individuals who are:
• Younger than eighteen or older than forty-nine years old;
• Determined to be physically or mentally unable to work for at least 3 months in the future;
• Caring for a person who is incapacitated;
• Living in a household with a child, even if the child is not receiving Basic Food for reasons such as alien status;
• Applying for or receiving unemployment benefits;
•Qualified students in school at least half time;
• Participating in a chemical dependency treatment and rehabilitation program; or
• Eligible for one of the annual federal-approved exemption slots under the fifteen percent exemption rule.
What if I don’t meet any of the criteria above?
This means that you’re considered a non-exempt ABAWD, and that you must participate in one of the following activities in order to meet the necessary work requirement and continue to get food benefits:
• Work at least 20 hours per week, or a minimum average of 80 hours per month (this includes work study hours);
• Complete at least 16 hours per month of unpaid volunteer work;
• Participate in a Basic Food Employment and Training (BFET) program.
If your benefits are terminated after your 3 months of food assistance without having met work requirements, you can become eligible again if you participate in one of the requirements above.
DSHS has made plans to mail postcards to ABAWD clients offering information about enrollment in BFET services, so keep an eye out. They are also working to assure that ABAWD exemptions are carefully considered for clients who may not be subject to these work requirements. Finally, they are issuing communications in hopes that affected ABAWDs will have a clear understanding of how they may go about fulfilling work requirements.
Even with all of this effort from DSHS, it is a big change and we know that many will have questions. You can call WithinReach at the Family Health Hotline at 1-800-322-2588 with any questions about this transition. You can also email DSHS for information about BFET and volunteer opportunities at email@example.com.
*In Pierce County, the cities of Tacoma and Lakewood will not be affected by this policy change; ABAWDS residing in these cities will continue to be exempt from work requirements.
We asked parents for feedback about Summer Meals–here’s what they had to say
Written by Annya Pintak, Community Partnership Associate, and Vinnie Tran, AmeriCorps VISTA/Summer Meals Promotions Specialist
Even though winter is almost upon us, WithinReach is already starting to plan for next year’s Summer Meals Program, a free meal program for kids and teens during the summer months. WithinReach serves as a point of contact for Washington families looking for local Summer Meals sites, and this past summer our Summer Meals VISTA and Community Partnership team partnered with the United Way of King County to further promote the Summer Meals Program.
In addition to promoting the program, our team took the opportunity to receive community feedback. We surveyed over 50 participants in Auburn, Tukwila and SeaTac sites, and conducted a focus group to further investigate on how to improve the Summer Meals and Basic Food (food stamp) program. In late August, WithinReach held its first focus group with a cohort of Auburn parents who we met at a Summer Meals site.
In the one-hour session that took place at the Auburn Library, the participants reviewed and provided feedback on current Summer Meals materials. Participants suggested concrete ways to improve the design and messaging of three Summer Meals flyers to better appeal to parents, especially Spanish-speaking individuals. They additionally stressed the importance of paper flyers and reaffirmed that schools were the best avenue to promote Summer Meals. A major concern parents indicated was the lack in consistent messaging and branding from different sponsors. Many of the parents indicated that this contributed to a common confusion among participants when visiting different Summer Meal sites in King County.
Participants of the focus group discussion were also asked to review various Basic Food (food stamps) materials. While we had a major focus on the Summer Meals program, we wanted to take the opportunity to gather community feedback on other food assistance programs as well. Many of the participants indicated materials that included visuals of cooked meals instead of plain vegetables were more appealing. Similar to the feedback on the Summer Meals materials, participants mentioned a concern with the inconsistent terms that various materials used to describe the Basic Food program; many materials use “Basic Food,” “food stamps,” and “EBT” interchangeably without clarifying that these terms all mean the same thing.
This focus group provided us with the opportunity to hear feedback from the community and to understand how we can better improve the promotion of the Summer Meals and Basic Food program. Hearing directly from the community is crucial to our work and we are looking forward to integrating their feedback into our future work and materials.
Dare to Help Kids Grow and Learn This Summer!
Summer is officially here, which means a break from school and homework and a time for kids to play! We all know how important physical activity and creative play is for children, but a whole summer without academics can take its toll come fall.
Research shows that students who take standardized tests at the beginning and end of summer break consistently receive lower scores on the second test. Students from low-income families are especially at risk: while most students fall about two months behind their grade level in math during the summer, low-income students also consistently fall behind in reading. This loss of knowledge means that teachers need to spend the beginning of the school year re-teaching last year’s curriculum—which cuts into learning new topics. Compounded over the course of elementary and secondary education, these yearly learning losses lead to poor long-term outcomes.
Summer learning loss for low-income kids is part of an even larger issue. Aside from the fact that they do not have access to luxuries such as summer camp, full-time childcare, or family vacations to stimulate their minds over the summer, these kids lack a very basic resource: food. Kids can’t play or learn when they’re hungry; the summer learning loss that affects all kids hits those without adequate nutrition especially hard. Summer hunger affects thousands of kids in Washington—the 476,000 students who receive free or reduced school meals have to find other sources of nutrition during the break. Their families may spend an additional $300 a month to feed them the meals they would otherwise get at school.
The good news is that partners all over the state work together to alleviate summer hunger for kids in need. The Washington State Summer Food Service Program, better known as the Summer Meals Program, is an extension of the free and reduced meals that kids get during the school year. There are sites all over the State that serve any combination of breakfast, lunch, snacks, and even dinner to anyone under age 18 for free. There are no sign-ups, no income requirements, and no proof of identification necessary to qualify.
In addition to alleviating hunger, many sites also have learning activities for kids and teens to help combat summer learning loss. Find the closest site to you right here!
So, we know that a whole summer without educational activities and nutritious food hurts kids and classrooms. That’s why we want to dare you to help kids grow and learn this summer. Summer learning doesn’t have to mean sitting inside and drilling the multiplication tables— with a little creativity, you can combat summer learning loss in a fun way and make sure the kids you know are ready to begin the school year come September. Here are some ideas to help you dare to reach for the kids in your life:
Get outside: Walk, bike or run outside!
Trails: There is so much green space to explore in King and Snohomish Counties! Bring a nature guide and try to identify as many plants, animals, and bugs as you can. And you don’t have to stop there; check out these great hikes for young children. From Whidbey Island and Wenatchee to the Columbia River, there is no shortage of places to explore!
Use the library: The library is an incredible summer resource. It’s more than just a place to borrow books—Seattle Public Libraries offer a limited number of free museum passes every day to people with library cards. Even better, you can reserve your tickets online! Also be sure to check out your local library’s calendar of events–there are fun activities, classes and story times to take part in.
Museums: There are a bunch of museums in Seattle and Snohomish counties that are free on the first Thursday of every month, and others that have free or discounted admission at different times. If you live outside of King and Snohomish Counties, check out this great search tool to find museums in your area.
Family fun: SeaFair is a Puget Sound tradition that shouldn’t be missed. Feed your child’s curiosity about planes, boats, music and more at this summer-long festival!
Rainy days: If you’re having an inside day, check out this list of educational (and fun!) apps, games, and websites for kids. Filter by age to find something for everyone! We especially love Khan Academy for tweens and teens, and the Toontastic app for elementary-age kids.
ParentMap: Find your Northwest summer adventures through ParentMap’s great list of family events and activities around the Puget Sound! Look for the green FREE circle!
Learn to Code: Check out these free workshops for youth at the Microsoft store in Seattle!
See a Play: Shakespeare in the Park starts on July 10th, and its rotating schedule means that you can find a location close to you! Pack a picnic and bring the whole family for these free performances.
And of course,
Free Summer Meals: Find the site closest to you and get all the information about the activities offered at sites throughout King County—and let others know about them too!
There are so many ways to make sure the kids in your life are staying engaged throughout the summer. We dare you to take the initiative and try our suggestions for a summer of learning and growing together!
Special Appearance: Summer Meals Site Visit
A crowd of kids descended on Renton School District’s Summer Meals site at Heritage Park on a random Tuesday in July, expecting nothing more than a tasty free lunch. Imagine their surprise when they found Seahawks tackle Russell Okung serving lunch! Russell passed out sack lunches filled with hoagie sandwiches, corn & bean salad, carrots, chocolate milk & juice; and then stayed to sign autographs and take pictures with the kids.
Renton’s Summer Meals program, sponsored by Renton School District, has been operating in many of the same sites for six years. Kira Acker, Nutrition Services Manager for the district, says that this is one reason why the program is so successful at bringing kids and families back year after year. Kira reaches kids where they live, learn and play by partnering with the City of Renton’s Recreation Division (parks), Renton Housing Authority, apartment complexes, a church, several schools, and even the Salvation Army – to offer Summer Meals at 17 sites throughout Renton.
As kids finished eating, one brave boy asked Russell “Do you think you’re faster than me?” To which Russell replied “You want to race?” The Super Bowl Champion proceeded to lose a race, and win the hearts, of three young fans, who will remember this day forever. Thank you Russell, for making Summer Meals fun for kids, and bringing more awareness to this program that helps lesser known champions like Kira, fill the tummies of hungry kids all summer long.
Peabody’s Summer Meals Road Trip Log
July 11: Walla Walla
Angela Potts has coordinated the Summer Recreation Programs for kids through the City of Walla Walla Department of Parks and Recreation for 10 years. During that time, Angela has developed a relationship with Walla Walla Public Schools to provide free lunches for kids in parks, schools, and the local YMCA.
Lunch is served to all the kids who sign up for Parks & Recreation summer programs, but also to any kids who drop in from surrounding neighborhoods. And the lunches aren’t the only thing that’s free. The City of Walla Walla is able to offer all kids FREE enrollment in Parks & Recreation programs for the summer. (To enroll: Parents sign their kids up at any Walla Walla summer meals park site by filling out a short form the first day they bring their kid in). What a fabulous service to busy families, and a great way to keep kids active, having fun, and full of delicious food all summer long!
On a beautiful warm day in July, we visited Pioneer Park and Jefferson Park, two of the 17 Summer Meals sites that Angela coordinates. Kids munched on bean & cheese burritos with whole wheat tortillas, carrot sticks and apples. And in just a week or so lunches will include fruits and vegetables from local farms! One teen volunteer with the program said “I came here as a kid, and now I volunteer to help with the summer program. How easy is it to play with kids in the park all day? I hope to get a job doing this someday.”
Thank you Angela and City of Walla Walla, for consistently offering such a great program, and an opportunity for kids to be inspired, and become role models for the next generation!
Full Circle: The Power of Summer Meals
Last Friday, several of us from WithinReach took part in an event to launch the Summer Meals Program. The event was hosted by Jefferson Community Center on Beacon Hill in Seattle. Like other community centers, schools and parks across the state, Jefferson Community Center operates a Summer Meals site, where kids and teens from local day camps and the surrounding neighborhood can eat free, healthy meals through the summer.
The event was super fun! In addition to our friends from the City of Seattle and United Way of King County, Seattle Seahawk football player Bruce Irvin, and Blitz were in the crowd. After the program was officially launched and the kids had eaten a healthy lunch, it was time for pictures and autographs with Bruce and Blitz.
You can be sure we didn’t miss our chance to snap a few photos ourselves! When I asked Bruce Irvin if we could see his World Champion ring, he took it off and let us try it on and take pictures of it – how crazy is that! I feel almost famous just saying I’ve HELD a Super Bowl ring!
This was all very exciting, but it was actually an impressive young woman, named Temesgen Melashu, who reminded me of the power of summer meals. I noticed Temesgen enthusiastically inviting kids into the line for lunch, and making sure they sanitized their hands before picking out their meal.
As we chatted, I learned that Temesgen works for the City of Seattle as a Summer Meals Site Monitor, helping sites provide the best program possible for kids. She told me that she loves the Summer Meals program, not only because she sees how happy the kids are eating the meals, but because she remembers how much the program meant to her when she was younger.
She said, “working with the Summer Meals program is sort of full circle for me – I came to sites like this when I was growing up. I know from my own experience how important these meals are”. I asked Temesgen what she will do when her summer work is over. She told me that she is headed to Seattle Pacific University in the Fall to study Communications or Sociology, with the eventual goal of getting her Master of Public Health degree.
For me, that’s full circle. I looked around as we spoke and realized that the room at Jefferson Community Center was filled with Temesgen Melashus – 100 or more young kids with amazing potential to learn, grow, and lead. And, the nutritious food they eat through the Summer Meals program is key to helping them realize this potential.
Bruce Irvin told the kids that being a professional athlete and a new dad has made him realize more than ever how important it is to eat good, healthy food. He said, “who knows, maybe there is a 1st or 2nd draft NFL player right here in this room?!” Yes – from Summer Meals to Seattle Pacific University, or Summer Meals to the Seahawks – it’s a BIG WIN!
Spread the Word about Summer Meals for Kids!
Last week, a number of amazing opportunities came to fruition for us around Summer Meals Program outreach. First, Liz Jaquette and I were the guests on the Clear Channel radio public affairs show. For 30 minutes, we got to share lots of information about the Summer Meals Program and the relationship between inadequate nutrition and summer learning loss.
Second, we partnered with Safeway and the Seahawks to develop a PSA for the Summer Meals program. KIRO shot the PSA and it will air on KIRO 7 throughout the summer. Russell Okung, the Seahawks All-Star Offensive Lineman, volunteered to star in the PSA with four ridiculously cute elementary school kids. Note how thrilled we all look to be meeting Russell in our photo op with him.
The goal of both media opportunities is to get the word out that the Summer Meals Program is the extension of the School Meals Program throughout the summer and program sites will be serving meals as soon as the school year ends. We’ve been able to build these phenomenal partnerships because when we share how poorly utilized this program is and how significant an issue hunger is in our state, people can’t believe it. The following are the facts that close the deal when you are asking for partners to help:
- Washington State is the 15th hungriest state in the nation.
- Yet we have one of the lowest participation rates in the Summer Meals Program nationally. Only 10% of the kids who qualify for free and reduced price meals and eat school meals during the school year continue to participate in the program during the summer.
- There are more than 800 Summer Meals Program sites throughout Washington.
We are doing a really bad job of feeding our neediest kids during the summer.
Why? Focus group research has found that the top barrier is lack of awareness. Less than half of the families that eat school meals during the school year realize that the program continues during the summer months. And for those that know it exists, most don’t know where to go. That’s where we come in. WithinReach has the Summer Meals Program site information for the entire state. Families can call us, use our site search tool on ParentHelp123.org, or text us.
We need everyone to help. Please get the word out in your community.
- Call 1-888-436-6392
- Search www.ParentHelp123.org
- Text MEALS to 96859
I have been going to the same Yoga class with my Mom, who is now 82, every Tuesday for the last 14 years. (Yep, that’s right, my Mom started her Yoga training at age 68 and is a constant source of inspiration for me).
Yoga settles my mind, and keeps my body moving and healthy. It also provides a great source of community – a long held vision of Annie Stocker, the owner of TwoDogYoga, where I practice yoga. Our particular class has several yoginis who are teachers. At class this Tuesday, the conversation buzz before class was about how the school year is almost over!With about 6 weeks left in the school year, the discussion quickly moved to all the good things about summer break for kids and teachers alike – a slower pace, time to play, summer vacations, etc. I couldn’t help draw attention to one really hard part of the summer break for many kids.
In Washington state, more than 400,000 low income kids rely on school breakfast and/or lunch every day. This food resource is critical to their health and learning. Where do these kids eat breakfast and lunch during the summer?
Fortunately, there is a program that fills the gap for these kids. As described in this video, the federally-funded Summer Meals program provides free meals to kids, no questions asked.
The good news is that there is plenty of food available, and it can be found parks and school sites throughout the state. The bad news is the very few families take advantage of the Summer Meals program, simply because they don’t know about it. I was appalled to learn recently that only 10-15% of the kids that are eligible for school meals statewide eat at a Summer Meals program site during the summer break.
I further explained to my fellow yoginis that WithinReach is committed to changing this for kids. There is a huge need for outreach and promotion of the Summer Meals program. We need to make sure that every child in our state has good food to eat all year long – including during the summer. This is why our staff will invest all their energy in getting the word out about the Summer Meals program this year – through PSAs, connecting with community based organizations, and creating a texting campaign that will help families find a Summer Meals site near them quickly and easily. We are committed to ending Summer Hunger!
By the time our yoga class started (sometimes we like to chat almost as much as we like to do yoga!), everyone in the class was fired up about summer hunger. Under Annie’s care, our yoga studio has a commitment to supporting our local community – cooking meals for the Tent City residents, teaching free yoga classes at the low-income housing residence, hosting food drives for the local foodbank, and now helping to get the word out about the Summer Meals program – so no child will be hunger this summer.
Partner Spotlight: United Way of King County
WithinReach is thrilled to have partnered with United Way of King County for the past 5 years to support our food access work through Bridge to Basics, Summer Meals and legislative efforts.
Our friends at UWKC recognize the importance of partnership and innovation, and invested in WithinReach’s work to connect families in crisis to basic needs programs, in particular Basic Food (food stamps). At the time of the economic downturn, the Basic Food program was sorely underutilized in King County, and federal dollars were not being effectively leveraged in our local communities (every $5 in food stamps spent generates $9 in local economic activity). At the same time, UWKC realized that an on-the-ground approach was needed to connect with people who might otherwise slip through the cracks. A partnership was born, with United Way providing the funding support, and WithinReach providing AmeriCorps staff and a deep knowledge of assistance programs, to help connect low-income families to Basic Food.
The program has evolved over the years, and our AmeriCorps team has nearly tripled in size! However, the core tenets of Bridge to Basics remain the same: Knowledge, Screening, Application Assistance, and Follow-up, to ensure that families are successfully accessing programs that will help them put food on the table and lead healthy lives. During tax season, WithinReach also works with United Way of King County and United Way of Snohomish County to provide application assistance and resources to clients at their tax sites. This partnership is crucial to helping taxpayers receive lasting benefits and services long after tax season ends.
WithinReach is also proud to partner with United Way of King County on Summer Meals, a federal nutrition program that provides free meals and snacks to kids and teens during the summer months. Driven by the fact that far too many kids do not have access to adequate food during the summer months when they are out of school, United Way launched the One Million Meals Campaign in 2013. They are increasing partnerships and outreach efforts so that more kids around Washington have access to summer meals.
In addition to program work, United Way of King County also led an effort in Olympia this year to pass legislation that would increase participation in school breakfast programs by having high needs schools offering breakfast after the bell. WithinReach was supportive of this legislative effort, and worked alongside UWKC to further this legislation. While the bill ultimately did not pass this session, the hearings served to educate legislators about this effective approach to fighting childhood hunger and generated great media attention around the issue. The momentum gained this legislative session will help future efforts around Breakfast after the Bell. This work would not be possible without the support of the United Way of King County, and we are forever grateful for their vision and drive to invest in all of this important work to improve the health and nutrition of children and families.