Summer student lunch giveaway works to combat rising community need | SummitDaily.com

Summer student lunch giveaway works to combat rising community need

Summit School District Free and Reduced-Lunch Eligibility (2016-17):

Silverthorne Elementary: 66.5 percent

Dillon Valley Elementary: 49.5 percent

*Snowy Peaks High School: 47.9 percent

Upper Blue Elementary: 35.4 percent

Summit Middle School: 29.8 percent

Summit High School: 29.2 percent

Summit Cove Elementary: 23.4 percent

Frisco Elementary: 15.6 percent

Breckenridge Elementary: 7.9 percent

*Fewer than 50 students enrolled

More than a third of families in Summit County qualify for the state's free or reduced-cost lunch program for their school-aged children and a new community effort is attempting to address the growing need.

Throughout Colorado, the numbers for discounted or cost-free meal eligibility continue to swell. The total has climbed statewide by more than 40 percent during the past decade, and today roughly 42 percent of all students attending a public school meet the financial requirements.

The Summit School District sits below the state average, at about 34 percent of its total 3,500 enrollment, but is also a part of that upward trend nationally. Silverthorne Elementary is by far the local leader with two-thirds of children qualifying and Dillon Valley Elementary is on the cusp of half, while Upper Blue Elementary is the only other of the district's nine buildings (with more than 50 students) at more than 30 percent.

To meet the free guideline for the 2016-17 academic year, families of four could make up to $31,590 annually, and still qualified for reduced price at up to approximately $45,000. For each additional family member in the household, a $5,400 increase for free meals and $7,700 for reduced cost was added to those totals.

That 50 percent mark at a school is defined as critical and initiates additional state assistance over the summer when students don't necessarily have the same level of access to food. Based on a model in neighboring Eagle County in partnership with Food Bank of the Rockies, Summit's Family & Intercultural Resource Center is now working as the liaison for the program and offering twice weekly meet-ups for those who want to snag a quick lunch, perhaps with a side of fun.

"The point is to give kids access to healthy food through the lunch, but then also provide some structured activity during the day for some kids, too," said Matt Madsen, FIRC's healthy families manager. "Some kids, they're in the summer programs, but some kids aren't, so it's trying to catch as many of them as possible and really kind of engage in that way."

Through early August, FIRC will set up at the Dillon Valley East Clubhouse on Tuesdays and outside the Silverthorne Library on Thursdays, both from noon to 2 p.m., to distribute a nutritious meal for anyone under the age of 18. Staff will also be on hand so kids can hang out, play games or participate in physical activity, and listen to the occasional guest speaker.

This past Thursday in Silverthorne, children arrived to take part in the weekly book exchange and gladly accepted a pre-made lunch donated by Denver-based Revolution Foods, consisting of a cheese sandwich, apple, cucumbers, sunflower seeds and milk. The little ones were also able to grab a to-go applesauce, and parents could take home a sack of produce and nonperishables.

"The food is designed for kids, so parents come and their kids eat lunch," said Madsen, "but then we can send food home with parents as well and get more healthy food into the community. That's our goal with the food pantry here; we've tried to increase access … and to make sure that do we have produce, and do we have things that when people come in we can give them healthy food options."

For Carla Hernandez, a four-year Silverthorne resident, the lunch-book exchange combo provided the perfect opportunity to feed her three children — 9-year-old Fernanda, 4-year-old Sebastian and 1-month-old Marco — and then shuttle them off to the next summer activity.

"This is the first time I've come," Hernandez said through an interpreter. "It's very convenient for me, I'm able to grab healthy food for the kids and they can play with the other kids here. Then I take my daughter to her gymnastics classes, so I don't have to go back to the house to prepare a meal."

In the third year for the program in Eagle, where 48 percent of students meet the eligibility requirement, food is offered each day of the week at nine different locations. The goal there is to supply 22,000 meals through the end of July.

Summit's aspirations in the first summer are much more modest, at between 500 and 1,000 lunches handed out. During the initial week starting June 6, FIRC gave away about 60 lunches, but already saw an uptick the week after once word began to spread. Nothing goes to waste, and leftovers are either sent to the area food bank or the school district's summer enrichment program.

"We would love to get to that point," Madsen said of serving several thousand meals each summer, "but I guess it's the catch-22 because that means there's a lot of kids in need in the community. But it also means you're meeting the need of getting healthy food out to people. The sooner we can start to address it, that means next year it'll be even better and we'll be getting more meals out and engaging more people."

To volunteer as an afternoon community guest speaker, please contact Matt Madsen at matthewm@summitfirc.org or 970-455-0236.