The Importance of Feeding Children Well

Originally published in The Weekly Sun 6/19/13

Summertime is so delightful! No matter how thrilled we adults are with warmer, longer days, children experience summer on a completely different level.  As the years pass, we adults get farther removed from the exhilaration that comes with the start of summer vacation.  We’re hard-pressed to recall that feeling of freedom and sense of boundless possibilities the longer days of summer bring to school aged children.

This is the first summer my son is old enough to participate in some of the amazing summer camp programs available to local children.  As I pack his lunch and snacks each morning, I can’t help but share his trembling excitement for a day of adventures unknown.  For some local children, however, summer brings with it the end of regular meals provided at school.  As I pack my son’s lunch, I also can’t help but feel for the children who may be facing hunger this summer.

One in five children in America struggles with hunger.  Only slightly better here in Blaine County, 18%, or 930 of our local children are missing meals or going to bed hungry every day.  To these children, summer means the end of steady, predictable breakfasts and lunches provided by the school district.  To these children, summer may not hold that wonderful sense of freedom and boundless possibilities.

On June 10, the USDA’s Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack kicked off the annual Summer Food Service Program, a series of federally-funded programs operated through partnerships with the USDA, state agencies and local organizations.  Keeping kids fed isn’t just a feel-good notion, it’s essential to building healthy communities.  When children miss out on critical nutrition, they suffer from health issues and learning loss.  Keeping kids fed through the summer means they can return to school ready to learn and with a better chance to succeed and grow into healthy, contributing community members.

Locally, The Hunger Coalition, in partnership with the Blaine County School District, is overseeing a summer food program called The Lunch Connection. With free breakfasts and lunches provided to all children 18 and under, as well as educational programs provided by the Environmental Resource Center and Bellevue Library, local children are getting the chance to stay health and engaged this summer.  A wildly popular program, The Lunch Connection served over 5,000 breakfasts and lunches last summer!

Currently located at Woodside Elementary School in Hailey, The Lunch Connection is getting a makeover this year to benefit more of our local children.  In collaboration with the YMCA, Blaine County Recreation District and Atkinsons’ Park summer programs, The Hunger Coalition is piloting a “sack lunch” project for at-risk youth in the north valley and those who may not be able to make it to Woodside Elementary for hot meals.  The meals are free and all children qualify.

Raising healthy children really does take a village.  I am grateful for the individuals in our community caring enough to not only ensure their own children are growing up to be healthy adults, but the children of others are as well.  For more information or to get involved in feeding our community’s children, please visit thehungercoalition.org or call Naomi Spence at 788-0121.