Children on the Palouse will not go hungry during the summer if the Moscow School District has anything to say about it.
The district will hold a barbecue at Lena Whitmore Elementary today to kick off the seventh year it has offered free summer meals to local children through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Summer Food Service Program.
The program dispenses federal funds for summer meals to school districts with a high percentage of students who qualify for free and reduced lunch. MSD Student Nutrition Supervisor Jessie Campbell said the program is especially critical for students who rely on school meals for their daily nutrition.
“It’s extremely important — in some cases, it’s the main source of food for some kids during that day,” Campbell said. “We provide a really well-balanced meal that has five different foods and we cover all the food groups every day.”
Campbell said the MSD’s program will be offered 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday through Friday starting today, running through Aug. 23. Children younger than 18 eat for free but parents and community members pay a $4 fee which gets funneled directly back into the program, Campbell said.
She said she anticipates feeding between 150 and 200 people a day this year. Today’s event will feature guests Eat Smart Idaho, Safe Routes to School and the Idaho National Guard who will be hosting activities including a portable climbing wall.
In the nearby Pullman School District, officials say they are unable to offer a similar program because they do not have enough students on free or reduced lunch to access those USDA funds.
However, they note there is no shortage of local resources for needy families and any child can access the MSD’s free summer lunch program.
“For families that are struggling, they can go to Moscow — it doesn’t matter if they live in Pullman or what school they go to — they can they can access that if they’re 18 and under,” said PSD Nutrition Services Director Sheba Nalle. “We have great resources here in Pullman with the Boost Collaborative and our Community Action Center — there’s not a shortage of help for people that need food.”
In addition to free summer lunches, Campbell said those who attend on Fridays can also receive a small “backpack” of weekend groceries.
Campbell said a partnership of local donors including the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Palouse and St. Mark’s Episcopal Church make the backpack program possible. She said without community and volunteer support, both the summer lunch and backpack programs would be virtually impossible.
“I feel really fortunate that we’re able to provide this over the summer and we have a pretty strong group of people who are interested in keeping these programs running,” Campbell said. “We have donations that we accept on site — you can donate to the school and then we do rely on volunteer servers — so if anyone is interested in volunteering, we have a way for them to sign up.
Scott Jackson can be reached at (208) 883-4636, or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.