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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   

The 2014 tax season is here!

Written by Ian Nelson, Financial Stability Manager of United Way of Snohomish County

Each year, United Way of Snohomish County provides free tax preparation for individuals and families at 6 locations across the county.  Last year this effort put back more than $5.1 million into the local economy through tax refunds, with more than $1.6 million of refunds from the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), a tax credit available to low-income, working families. The IRS estimates that every year, 1 in 5 people who qualify for the Earned Income Credit do not claim it simply because they do not know they qualify, meaning they are leaving thousands of dollars behind each tax season by not filing a return.
United Way of Snohomish County strives to provide taxpayers with access to other asset building opportunities when clients come to get their taxes prepared.  Partnering with WithinReach is crucial to helping taxpayers receive lasting benefits and services long after tax season ends.  WithinReach’s Asset Specialist team screens customers for available healthcare and food benefits, gives out job training information, pulls credit reports and provides other financial resources like free banking through Bank On North Sound.  They also use the incredible database of resources on www.parenthelp123.org  to connect people with community clinics, WIC, food banks and utility assistance programs.Together we provide a one-stop-shopping experience where clients leave with their taxes prepared and a variety of resources to help build their assets. This creates the opportunity to combine the one time lump sum payment of a tax refund with the lasting income boost provided through assets and public benefits. Each January we look to improve these services to serve Snohomish County better and with WithinReach, 2014 should be another successful year!

Tags: earned income tax credit   Tax sites   United Way   

Hitting the Ground Running at United Way’s Day of Caring Resource Exchange

By Lisa Andersen, one of our new AmeriCorps members, working to connect vulnerable families to food and health resources.

As a new AmeriCorps member at WithinReach, a big part of our work is connecting members of the King and Snohomish County communities to the health and food resources they need, and making sure they know how and where to access those resources when they need them. Those resources can range from food banks to medical clinics, and from dental services to cell phones. I learned quickly when I started at WithinReach this September that one of the challenges of my AmeriCorps service will be learning to navigate the huge variety of resources available, and learning to inform the people we serve about those resources in a clear and manageable way.
As you can imagine, the challenge of connecting people to these resources becomes less daunting when all those aforementioned resources are in the same (very large) room. This is one of the many exciting things about the Day of Caring Resource Exchange event, hosted annually by the United Way of King County, where WithinReach was one of many organizations represented.
For those unfamiliar with the CRE: picture an exhibition hall full of people and community organizations coming together to support Seattle’s community of individuals experiencing homelessness. The event is planned with a vision of connecting people in need to resources ranging from library cards to community clinics, new shoes to flu shots, pet care, health care, hair care, and everything in between.
For WithinReach’s AmeriCorps Bridge to Basics team, the CRE was an exciting event for lots of reasons. For many of us, this was our first day of outreach as AmeriCorps members. This means that we were speaking to clients for the first time, describing the work that WithinReach does in the community and what services we could help them find. Communicating a clear, concise, and comprehensive talk while staying cool, calm, and collected is something that I’ll continue to practice, but for a first-day doing outreach, I was excited to see the positive response we received from clients and fellow service providers.
Need more reasons to love the chance to have all of these providers in the same place? Every time that I was approached and asked where to sign up for a library card, or where to get a new pair of shoes, it was exciting to not have to pull out a map. “Right over there!” was about as complicated as directions got. It’s ideal for us as we work to connect people with these resources, and, of course, it removes the barrier of distance between organizations that might prevent clients from being able to locate the services they need. All told, the CRE was an ideal setting to learn about the resources available in our community, because many of those organizations were our next-door neighbors for the day.
I’m excited to learn more from outreach events like the CRE as the year continues. We will be visiting food banks, book stores, community centers, health fairs, libraries, and many other community sites in order to connect families with the resources they need to be healthy. Starting the year with an event like the CRE was like hitting the ground running (Look at all these people! Look at all these resources!) It’s wonderful to be part of WithinReach’s newest AmeriCorps team, serving such a resilient, diverse, and warm community in Seattle and beyond.

 

Tags: AmeriCorps   Day of Caring Resource Exchange   United Way   

Summer Meals in Action

The Summer Meals program helps reduce summer hunger by providing free nutritious meals and snacks to kids and teens. Local organizations run summer meals sites at schools, recreation centers, community-based organizations, faith-based organizations, and camps.  Des Moines Area Food Bank is a local organization in their fourth year of providing Summer Meals to kids and teens in their community. In their first year, they operated two sites and since then they have grown their program to thirty sites in Des Moines, SeaTac, Burien and Federal Way! They will serve an average of 4,000 meals a week this summer to hungry kids and teens. In an effort to serve as many meals as possible, they started their 5-day a week program the day after school was out and will continue through Labor Day. As of July 20th they have already served 26,000 meals, making a big impact to reduce hunger in their community.
Each morning a group of dedicated volunteers and staff meet at the Des Moines Food Bank and make thousands of lunches and snacks to serve around the city each day.  Midway Park, one of their original summer meals sites, serves kids who attend Madrona Elementary in the Highline School District, a school that has a 94% free and reduced lunch population. On an average day, they serve about 40- 50 kids at this site. A typical lunch includes coolers filled with milk, oranges & apples, carrot sticks, turkey & cheese pitas and tuna wraps. To meet federal requirements for nutritious meals, each child is required to choose three of the four options available to them, but they are encouraged to take one of each.
In addition to nutritious food, the Des Moines Area Food Bank also offers educational activities at each of their Summer Meals sites. They are working with eight United Way of King County Americorp VISTA’s who are stationed at the sites to lead fun and educational activities with the kids. In addition to VISTA’s, local volunteers share their skills and knowledge. At Midway park, Joan Marie is a local volunteer who leads ukulele lessons. With funding from the Rotary Club and a discount from a local store, they were able to purchase a number of brightly colored ukuleles for the kids to play. At another one of their Summer Meals sites at Redondo Beach, they have a partnership with the Marine Science and Technology Center (MaST) of Highline Community College where kids can learn about the environment of the Puget Sound and local marine life.
Visit the Des Moines Area Food Bank website to find a list of all the sites they are serving meals or visit ParentHelp123 to search for summer meals sites around the state. Thanks to all the dedicated staff and volunteers who are working with Des Moines Area Food Bank and other similar sites to bring free meals to kids!

 

Tags: Des Moines   Des Moines Food Bank   food bank   summer meals   United Way   

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