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News / Health / Clark County Health

Summer lunches for students not so accessible to all

By Katie Gillespie, Columbian Education Reporter
Published: June 21, 2018, 7:12pm

There are more than 30 schools, churches and apartment complexes in Clark County where children can go to grab a free meal during summer vacation. For potentially thousands of low-income families who rely on public schools to feed their children breakfast and lunch during the school year, those sites are supposed to ease the challenge of affording food during the summer months.

But for some of Clark County’s poorest students, there are no summer lunch sites near their schools, a Columbian analysis shows.

Share Vancouver, as well as Battle Ground Public Schools, the Washougal School District and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Southwest Washington, sponsor free breakfasts, lunches and snacks with funding from the United States Department of Agriculture. Share Vancouver alone was reimbursed for 15,069 meals last summer, and served a total of 17,791.

Meals must be served in low-income communities or those where at least half of children are eligible for free and reduced-price school meals — a barometer of poverty — according to the United States Department of Agriculture. There are 30 elementary schools in Clark County that meet that threshold, according to the most recent Office of Superintendent Public Instruction report card data from the 2016-2017 school year.

But within the boundaries of nine of those campuses, there is no summer lunch site available.

For example, students attending Peter S. Ogden Elementary School, a campus where 75.77 percent of students receive discounted meals, the closest location to grab a meal might be Gardenview Estates or Springfield Meadows, apartment complexes in the Minnehaha area.

Students attending Marrion Elementary School, where 69.4 percent of students receive discounted meals, may be able to travel to Copper Lane Apartments, a complex across Interstate 205 on Four Seasons Lane, or Marshall Elementary School across Mill Plain Boulevard.

Meanwhile, in Ridgefield and La Center, where no schools have 50 percent or more of their students receiving free- and reduced-price meals, there are no summer lunch sites. Camas and Washougal each have only one.

Finding summer lunch sites can be a patchwork process of piecing together locations. Katie Dwaileebe, the hunger response assistant director for Share Vancouver, said sometimes churches or organizations have approached Share, offering up their space, but they aren’t in an eligible location. A park in a different census tract or school boundary across the street, however, might be eligible.

“It’s sometimes frustrating to be the messenger,” she said. “I’m not the one that’s creating the eligibility rules, but I have to explain why the site isn’t compatible.”

Evergreen Public Schools spokeswoman Gail Spolar, however, said the district historically hasn’t seen many students attending some summer meal sites. At Burton Elementary School, for example, two or three students came in three or four times last summer, she said. At Burnt Bridge Creek Elementary School, a mother with a 1-year-old came in “a handful of times,” she said.

“We prepare all the food, we have it all available, and yet we were just getting a very, very small number of folks in,” she said.

This year, the district is offering free meals at school campuses offering other summer activities, and is working with large apartment complexes within district boundaries to offer meals there.

“We think this combination better serves our populations and really is catching those kids that have been on our free- and reduced-lunch program,” Spolar said.

Mill Plain United Methodist Church at 15804 S.E. Mill Plain Blvd. in east Vancouver is among several churches offering free meals. The church is hosting Project Transformation, a free summer day camp for low-income students, but will open its doors at lunch for anyone who wants to grab a meal, Rev. Sue Ostrom said.

“It’s a big deal for us, reaching out to our neighborhood, trying to be a blessing,” she said.

Ostrom said that while there are plenty of restaurants and grocery stories in the neighborhood, she described the area as a “food desert” for poor families.

“To be able to have that meal site is pretty exciting,” she said.

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Columbian Education Reporter