Food security programs guarantee nutritious meals for those in need

August 3, 2017

 

With school out for summer, food service programs continue to provide meals for needy students.

Lodi Unified School District’s Nutrition Services department served approximately 40,000 meals last summer for six weeks in June and July to students under the age of 18. Of these meals, 14,000 were provided to children not enrolled in summer school and at locations other than school campuses.

According to Nancy Rostomily, Director of Nutrition Services for LUSD, the program’s goal is to provide healthy and nutritious meals to the area’s youth while school is out.

“The food is prepared and served fresh by the Nutrition Services Department daily as part of the Federal Seamless Summer program that provides meals in low income areas during the summer,” Rostomily said. “The program combines features of the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and the School Breakfast Program (SBP) that are offered during the school year.”

This summer’s program runs from June 5 through July 14.

To reach as many hungry children as possible, Lodi Unified reaches out beyond summer school students and partners with organizations such as the Salvation Army, YMCA, parks and recreation departments and the Boys and Girls Club.

“Parents usually are looking for programs and activities for youth in the summer and this makes a perfect partnership. They provide an activity and we provide the food,” Rostomily said.
Hungry students are also enrolled at colleges and universities as well.

“UC Merced’s food security program is linked to the UC system-wide food security goals to provide enough good, nutritional food for our students and to educate them around what that means, what that looks like for them,” said Vernette Doty, Associate Director for the Office of Student Life and Civic Leadership, University of California, Merced.

As part of the University of California’s Global Food Initiative, the focus is on students and their education of and access to food on campus.

Approximately 200 to 300 students take advantage of the various food security services on campus each month.

“These are low numbers relative to need. Students are not aware, that’s the main thing. Being able to increase our efforts to get the word out is going to help a lot,” Doty said.

Off campus, Doty overseas a food pantry which is another vehicle for food distribution. The pantry distributes food on the third Friday of each month at Merced College and its goal is to enable anyone in need access to healthy food.

“We started it specifically for our students but as a USDA distribution it has to be open to anyone, and so, gradually we began to see more and more community members come out to the distribution,” Doty said.

Currently, about 60 percent of the food is distributed to community members and 40 percent to students, a ratio that skews more towards non-students during the summer when the student population in the area drops.

“To me it’s really important that everybody — students, community members, anyone — is treated exactly the same way, gets the same food, the whole thing,” Doty said.
Between 250 to 350 community members sign the USDA distribution sheet each month at the food pantry.

“I can tell you that means between 500 and 700 people total when you count their families are benefiting from that distribution,” Doty said.

The food distributed through the food pantry is coming from the USDA primarily through the Merced County food bank, with occasional private donations from local gardens and farms. The UC Merced dining services also donates fresh produce to the distribution about three times a year.

Other organizations help support the community food distribution through the food pantry.

“We have a grant through United Way, so we partner with them,” Doty said. “We have also partnered with Image Masters. They donated some of our first round of reusable grocery bags and our food pantry tee shirts.”

On campus distribution is funded through the UC-wide Global Food Initiative with opportunities for students to access food about two times a month.

“Those funds have to stay on campus and they go back to the students,” Doty said.

Helping needy families find access to food is not limited to educational institutions. The Health Plan of San Joaquin (HPSJ), a not-for-profit health plan, does not provide food directly to its members but helps them find resources.

“When food help is requested at any time during health care-related contacts with HPSJ staff, including our health navigators and customer service representatives, each inquiring member is given a warm hand-off to an HPSJ social worker,” said David Hurst, Vice President for External Affairs, HPSJ.

The social worker then identifies the most appropriate local food organizations from a resource list.

The health plan also works to get information quickly to its members via various forms of media about free school meals available in the area.

“While health promotions are indirect, no child should go hungry in the summer because his family may not have heard about this tremendous resource, available in a school near them,” Hurst said.

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