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Agencies address lack of meals for students in summer

Zariea Ferguson drinks a chocolate milk provided by the Food Bank of Nevada County's children's lunch program.
Jennifer Terman/jterman@theunion.com |

School’s out for summer — but for some Nevada County students, what that really means is a lack of adequate meals.

Nearly 2,000 children in the county are affected by the gap in their nutrition when schools are not in session.

That’s according to a report by California Food Policy Advocates, which contends that 1,856 — 87 percent — of Nevada County’s low-income youth are affected because of decreased summer programs such as summer school that have been reduced due to budget cuts.



The California Department of Education found that the number of free and reduced-price summer lunches served across California fell about 40 percent from 2006 to 2012, despite the availability of federal funds, according to the report.

The Food Bank of Nevada County offers a lunch program for children in low-income apartment complexes in Grass Valley, including Cedar Parks/Oak Ridge at 228 Sutton Way, Glen Brook Apartments at 265 Sutton Way, Nevada Woods Apartments at 360 Sutton Way, Springhill Apartments at 244 Dorsey Drive and Valley Commons Apartments at 1444 Segsworth Way.




To qualify, children need only to attend during lunch time, which is from 11:30 a.m. to noon or noon to 12:30 p.m., depending on the site.

The program serves about 150 kids who can receive a nutritious lunch with a sandwich, milk, a protein, whole grain, fresh fruit or vegetable and a dried fruit or vegetable using food donated to the Food Bank or with food purchased with funds from the Food Bank.

Sabine Ferguson’s children receive food from the summer lunch program, a resource she says is a relief.

“I don’t have to worry about making their lunch,” she said, “especially since I’m used to them getting free lunch from school.”

Her kids also enjoy visiting with the lunch lady, 15-year Food Bank volunteer and three-year summer lunch program volunteer Dea Amie, who hands out lunches from ice chests.

“Sometimes I have to call to ask (the Food Bank) to bring another ice chest, and sometimes there’s extra,” she said.

“It depends.”

Over time, the number of children who show up has been on the rise, particularly in the Sutton Way apartments, said Makayla Confer, nutrition education coordinator for the Nevada County Food Bank.

“There’s definitely been an increase in the number of kids, and during the school year, we also see a lot of kids during our snack program,” she said.

The snack program — a box of snacks kept in the classroom to be used at the teacher’s discretion — is a partnership between the food bank and 14 schools that serve 1,418 students per week, Confer said.

The schools that participate in the snack program include Nevada City School of the Arts, Cottage Hill Elementary, Williams Ranch Elementary, Lyman Gilmore Middle School, Union Hill, Chicago Park, Grass Valley Charter and Deer Creek Elementary schools.

“It’s all varying degrees of how many classrooms and how many kids,” Confer said, adding that the number has likely risen from the need for both parents to work in this economy.

One of the particular challenges to serving food in Nevada County, Confer said, is how rural and spread out the area is with little pockets of need mixed with higher-income pockets.

Grass Valley School District Nutrition Services serves Chicago Park, Clear Creek, Nevada City, Pleasant Ridge, Pleasant Valley, Ready Springs and Union Hill school districts and Sierra Montessori school during the school year, but only two schools request service during the summer. GVSD Nutrition Services Director Suzanne Grass said schools have the option of summer services, but the Grass Valley School District is the only one that uses the services for its summer program at Margaret G. Scotten Elementary and Lyman Gilmore Middle schools, which serve 70 to 100 students.

Years ago, schools offered summer school classes and served lunch, but such programs have been cut, Grass said.

The issue of providing summer meals to children is also compounded by federal regulations that have specific requirements for the components of each meal, how they are acquired and that the children are monitored while they eat.

“These programs don’t make it easy where you can just feed kids,” Grass said.

“When you feed them, they have to eat right there. With the food bank, kids can take it home. There are all sorts of regulations with the USDA meal programs.”

To bridge some of the gap, Grass said she has been in discussion with Food Bank of Nevada County Executive Director Toni Thompson to offer a summer feeding program, though she wants to avoid duplication of effort with the Food Bank.

GVSD Nutritional Services tried a summer program many years ago, Grass said, but the program received a poor turnout.

She plans to revisit the idea for next summer.

“I think there’s a lot more need, and I spoke with (Thompson) to work with some kind of collaborative effort, so that’s what we’re going to be looking at for next year,” Grass said.

To contact Staff Writer Jennifer Terman, email jterman@theunion.com or call 530-477-4230.


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