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Celebrating, Learning and Leaping

As the leaves turn colors and fall from the trees, I am reminded in this season more than any other, that life is a series of beginnings and endings and beginnings. This is how it goes. There are things to celebrate and things to grieve, there are old journeys to remember and learn from, and there are new ways of thinking to be explored.
In this season of reflection, we are doing just that. We are looking back and celebrating the things we accomplished over the past 3 years to help families across Washington live healthier, safer lives. Astoundingly, over the last three years our staff informed more than 1,000,000 people about critical health and nutrition supports available to them.

More specifically, we helped more than 32,000 families enroll in health insurance, and nearly 18,000 access in the WIC nutrition program. In addition, we provided 232,000 families with information on immunizations, informed 174,000 families about local breastfeeding resources, and provided 227,000 families with information on free summer meals programs in their neighborhoods. Beyond the numbers, we helped set the stage for a coordinated statewide Help Me Grow network, became recognized as national experts in addressing vaccine hesitancy, and our Healthy Connections Model is widely known to be an effective and efficient model for addressing the social determinants of health.

Now we are looking ahead and exploring, as Seth Godin says, “the space between where we are now, and where we want to be, ought to be, are capable of being.” He describes this as a gap between our reality and our possibility, and notes that if we imagine the gap as a huge gulf or crevasse we will surely be paralyzed.

Rather he suggests that “the magic of forward movement is seeing the space as leap-sized, as something that persistent, consistent effort can get you through.” Herein is the grace—our work is to hold tight to a strong vision, while taking one step at a time toward a new reality.

Over the next several months our Board and Staff will work together to define a new 3-year strategic direction for our work. We know we want our new direction to be nimble and bold, in every way rooted in our strong history of service, capacity-building and advocacy, and inspired by our unending belief that every family deserves to be healthy and safe.

We look forward to having you join us on the journey ahead, in leap-sized strides, making sure that every family can be healthy and safe!

Tags: benefit programs   health insurance   hunger   Public Health   Washington state   WithinReach   

A Call to End Summer Hunger

In Washington State, roughly 1 in 5 of all families with children struggle to put food on the table regularly. During the summer, the problem is exacerbated particularly for children who rely on meals from the free or reduced school lunch programs.

 In hopes of ending summer hunger and addressing summer learning loss, the Summer Meals Program provides healthy, FREE meals for kids and teens under age 18 during the summer months. There are no citizenship or income requirements, and registration is also not required. The sites are held in various locations such as schools, community centers, libraries, YMCAs, parks and apartment complexes. Some of these sites have enrichment activities for children to help prevent summer learning loss so children are prepared to jump back into school come fall. This low-barrier program is a great resource for all families looking for something to do during the summer.

In King County, WithinReach has partnered with United Way of King County to reach a goal of serving an additional 82,500 meals this summer. WithinReach assists in the promotion of Summer Meals and serves as the local point of contact for families looking to locate a site close to them. Since February, our Summer Meals VISTA and Community Partnership team has partnered with school districts, attended community events, provided presentations to network meetings, and distributed materials to community organizations to promote the Summer Meals Program. It is a highly-needed resource in the community, but is often underutilized due to lack of awareness.

To continue the momentum of promoting Summer Meals, WithinReach hosted two Summer Meals Phone-a-thons on June 23rd and July 8th with volunteers to connect families to their nearest Summer Meals site.

At each event, our dedicated volunteers spent two hours in the evening at WithinReach’s office to make calls to families that had previously been assisted by WithinReach staff. Our 14 volunteers collectively made 385 calls, sharing Summer Meals information and offering to connect clients to their closest sites. Of the families they spoke to, 98% had never accessed Summer Meals, and many families indicated their appreciation in receiving a phone call. In addition to connecting families to Summer Meals, volunteers also made referrals to other services such as Basic Food benefits, health insurance and affordable housing options.  While these events were largely successful in reaching new families that have never accessed Summer Meals, it also revealed that there is much more work that can be done.

Due to the great success of the events and work of volunteers, we have created a new volunteer opportunity for anyone that is interested in conducting Summer Meals calls on a more regular basis during WithinReach’s office hours. If you are interested, please contact Anna Balser at annab@withinreachwa.org for more information.

To find your nearest Summer Meals site please click here or text MEALS to 96859.

 

Tags: food   hunger   ParentHelp123   summer learning   summer meals   United Way   United Way of King County   Volunteer   Washington state   

Goodbye and good luck to our AmeriCorps team!

Our amazing AmeriCorps team will be finishing their service at WithinReach next week. Their work as Outreach and Enrollment Specialists over the past 10 months helped families and individuals all over Washington access necessary nutrition and health resources. We are going to miss this team, but they are off do to more meaningful work in Washington and beyond! Check out where they’re headed, and what their time at WithinReach meant to them:

 

 

Staffphotos-Jessica

 

Jessica Vu:  I’ll be doing another year of service as a VISTA member with Harvest Against Hunger and the South King County Food Coalition. We will be working to develop a farm that will grow produce for 12 food banks in South King County. In my year at WithinReach, I learned the value of engaging your community!

 

 

 

Staffphotos-Kacey

Kasey Johnson: I am applying to medical programs to become a family physician that serves a rural community here in Washington state. I am also planning to continue working with one of our community partners, the Edmonds Mobile Clinic. My year at WithinReach taught me so much; it’s been very exciting to be a part of broad change regarding health insurance and to see how public benefits are distributed and accessed by our community members experiencing poverty. This knowledge will be carried with me as I continue to serve my community and work toward change for its most vulnerable members: the poor and uninsured.

 

Staffphotos-Chris

 

Chris Garrido-Philp: It has been a pleasure to get to know communities in King and Snohomish County through WithinReach. I have learned that the diverse people who access assistance through our state’s programs come from all walks of life. I plan to continue my learning of direct service work and overcoming barriers in the healthcare system through the University of Washington Master of Social Work program this fall.

 

 

Staffphotos-Amber

 

Amber Bellazaire: In September, I will begin a Master in Public Health program at the University of Michigan. I look forward to implementing the knowledge gained through our community-based fieldwork as service members at WithinReach in my future studies.

 

 

 

Staffphotos-Jodie

 

Jodie Pelusi: I hope to use the communication skills/methods I learned in this position to better serve communities in the future while working in the PeaceCorps. I will be in Cameroon starting in the fall for 2 years as a Maternal and Child Health Specialist. I am interested in further developing resourceful methods to  work with community members in creating their own solutions to the health disparities they face. This year has given me the courage to take initiative in my future goals.

 

Staffphotos-Emma

 

 

Emma Lieuwen: I will be staying on at WithinReach and will continue to do outreach over the summer. I have learned there is a great need in Washington for food and health resources and there is plenty of work left to be done.

 

 

 

We are proud to be part of the journey for these future leaders!  If you’re inspired to serve, check out the application to be part of the next wave of AmeriCorps members at WithinReach.

 

Tags: AmeriCorps   Community Health   direct service   Family Health   health insurance   hunger   low-income populations   Public Health      state benefit program   VISTA   Washington state   

Washington’s Parents Prioritize School Breakfast as Key to Learning

A few weekends back, I had the opportunity to combine my roles as Chief Operating Officer at WithinReach, elementary school mom and PTA member. I represented my local chapter of the PTA at the statewide PTA Legislative Assembly, while using my parent voice to speak up for Washington’s hungriest kids, not just my kids, but ALL kids.
The PTA Legislative Assembly is a critical gathering of parents from across the state. There are 138,000 members of Washington’s PTA’s, making us the largest advocacy organization in the state. At our meetings, the pros and cons of many issues are debated by parents interested in improving education outcomes and closing the opportunity gap for all children. Many issues are presented and voted on and the top 5 become the legislative agenda.
This year there was an intense and necessary focus on funding basic education, as it is required under McCleary v. the State of WA. Education is dramatically under-funded in Washington, and the legislature is currently being held in Contempt of Court for their lack of progress in the direction of fully funding education by 2018.
We all recognized the importance of parents advocating to fully fund basic education. However, we also have an enormous problem with hunger in our state. One in 5 children in Washington lives in a food insecure household. For thousands of kids in WA, their free school lunch may be the only meal they eat each day. WithinReach is driven to improve health for children, and we see ending hunger as key to improving health.
The WSPTA’s vision is to advocate for the whole child, and all children. I was confident (and hopeful) they would vote to bring the powerful voice of the PTA to Olympia this legislative session in support of Breakfast After the Bell. And they did, and here’s why WSPTA voted to support Breakfast After the Bell:
  • No child should be too hungry to learn. In a national survey, 87 percent of principals reported seeing hungry children in their schools at least once a week, and 73 percent of teachers reported having students who regularly come to school hungry because there isn’t enough to eat at home.
  • Hungry children can negatively impact an entire classroom, not to mention their own education. Hunger in children increases behavioral and health problems. It can also decrease a child’s self-esteem. When a child is hungry, his/her ability to concentrate and learn is jeopardized by the emptiness/pain of their stomach. He or she may act out because of their hunger, producing a disruptive environment for the teacher to handle; in turn, pulling the focus of other students away from the lessons being taught.
  • Washington is one of the worst states in the nation when it comes to feeding hungry kids breakfast. We rank 41st out the 50 states in serving eligible, low-income children school breakfast.
  • Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Every parent has probably used that phrase at least once, if not many times.
  • There is a solution! The USDA, the Food Research and Action Council, and other national experts are advocating for serving breakfast after the school day starts. It is a national best practice to increase participation and improve numerous learning and behavior outcomes.

This information made sense to PTA members from across the state and they voted to add it to their legislative agenda. Breakfast is a simple, cost-effective way for schools to help every child be well-nourished and ready to learn. To join the Breakfast After the Bell Coalition and advocate alongside WithinReach, United Way of King County, Children’s Alliance, WSPTA, and many others, contact our Senior Policy Manger: Carrie Glover.

 

Tags: Breakfast After the Bell   Education   Food Insecure   hunger   Legislative Assembly   Washington State PTA   

Special Appearance: Summer Meals Site Visit

July 15: Heritage Park in Renton

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 partneriRaceng 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.
 
 

Tags: hunger   Russell Okung   Seattle Seahawks   summer meals   Washington state   

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!Photo

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!

Peas-Out,
Peabody
 

Tags: hunger   summer meals   Walla Walla   Washington state   

Ending Summer Hunger

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.

Tags: hunger   school lunch   summer meals   

Inspired and Hopeful After A Visit to Spokane

After a relaxing weekend with  my family I spent the day in Spokane meeting with a couple of WithinReach’s favorite organizations, 2nd Harvest and Community Minded Enterprises (CME). I was impressed and delighted beyond belief with both of their leaders. As you know, I have a soft spot for visionary and energetic leaders.  I left in awe for the work they are doing for their communities and with great takeaways about how to maximize partnerships.

One of the takeaways I had after these visits was that there is an amazing community ethic of working together in eastern Washington. I suspect this partly due to the farming ethic that has shaped this part of our state (I kept thinking of the old barn raisings) as well as a need for self reliance. I loved hearing the perspective from both Executive Directors, that government is part of the answer, in addition to nonprofits working collectively, business investing and community volunteerism. This reinforces my belief about a new way of working. I am grateful to Jason and Kathy for sharing their wisdom so freely with me.

As politically conservative as eastern Washington may be (or at least as compared to Seattle) the ethic  of making communities healthier is at the center of their politics. I’m inspired by the potential we have to forge new political partnerships to make families healthier and both Community Minded Enterprises and 2nd Harvest are leading examples of how to do this well.

I was in awe that 2nd Harvest is serving 21 counties in Washington and is a 55 million dollar organization–talk about getting the work done. They have been leading the hunger-relief network in the region since 1971 and they distribute 2 million pounds of free food each month to help people in need in Eastern Washington and North Idaho. I’m super impressed at the impact they are having on hunger in Eastern Washington.

Community Minded Enterprises recently piloted an adult dental project with one of their treatment facilities. They taught their clients how to effectively use dental care and paired them with appropriate dental care. I believe they are on to something big here as we have a whole new population of people who are accessing primary care through their insurance for the first time. I can’t stop thinking about the potential of this work to make people healthier, and look forward to partnering with these great organizations to create healthier families and communities in Washington.

 

Tags: 2nd Harvest   Community Minded Enterprises   Eastern Washington   hunger   

Summer Meals: Free Meals for Kids all Summer

Q and A with St. Leo Food Connection Director, Kevin Glackin-Coley

Q: What is the Summer Meals program?

A: For the parents of the 467,279 Washington schoolchildren who receive free or reduced price school meals, summer can be a time of struggle as they stretch available dollars to cover the gap left by school meals. The Summer Meals Program helps by providing free nutritious meals and snacks to kids and teens during the summer months. Summer meal sites are located in schools, recreation centers, community-based organizations, faith-based organizations, and camps. The program begins at the end of the school year, and ends in the fall when school begins. All kids and teens (18 years old and younger) are eligible for the program, regardless of income.

Q: Why would a food bank operate Summer Meals sites?

A: At St. Leo Food Connection we run the largest food bank in Pierce County and one of the only food banks in the county that is open on Saturdays. Our Backpack Program provides two days worth of food on Fridays to more than 600 children at numerous Tacoma and Clover Park Public Schools. We know from the growth of this program that many children in our community are at-risk of going hungry. This sad truth is only exacerbated during the summer when school breakfasts and lunches are not available for many of the children who rely on them during the school year. Last year we served more than 700 children daily throughout the summer, but we know that the need is even greater. With the program expansions that we are putting into place, we anticipate that we will be serving close to 800 children on weekdays throughout the summer.

Q: How does the Summer Meals Program impact the community?

A: Parents and caregivers in the community are relieved to know that they have a safe place to send their kids for healthy meals during the summer. Last year a grandmother of several kids who attended one of our sites expressed it this way, “The Summer Feeding Program is really good for the kids because it gives them fresh foods and it is really hard to buy fresh foods on public assistance. Sometimes when a parent could not give their child snacks, they would keep their kids inside because they did not have enough snacks for all the kids outside. You feel bad for the other kids, but you cannot really help them. The SFP means food equity for the kids here at the apartments.”

To locate a Summer Meals site near you, call the Family Food Hotline, 1-888-436-6392 or visit the online search tool at ParentHelp123.

Tags: food   food bank   hunger   low income   summer meals   

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