Without school lunch programs, many Nevada County parents have a hard time feeding their children during the summer | TheUnion.com

Without school lunch programs, many Nevada County parents have a hard time feeding their children during the summer

Nineteen years ago the Summer Lunch Program was established as a result of some alarming statistics.

A surprising number of Nevada County children were not getting enough to eat during the summer. But with 60 percent of children in the Grass Valley School District alone eligible for the free or reduced lunch program during the school year, it made sense. Parents were struggling to fill this food gap while their kids were not in school.

As a result, The Food Bank of Nevada County began its annual Summer Lunch Program in June of 1999 and has continued since. Five days a week volunteers begin bagging lunches at 9 a.m. at the food bank's warehouse, and will continue through Aug. 3. The team then loads their cars with drinks and nutritious lunches in ice chests and fans out to low-income apartment complexes and the YMCA summer camp in Memorial Park.

Food is distributed between noon and 1 p.m. at Oak Ridge Apartments, Glenbrook Apartments, Nevada Woods Apartments, Valley Commons and Springhill Gardens I and II. Children are not required to live at those apartment complexes to show up and receive a free meal if they are in need.

"We're seeing a need that's as great as ever," said Gerri Kopec, who oversees children's nutrition at the Food Bank. "It's touching to see those kids come running up and get excited about what's in the lunch bag. Very often it's nutritious food they don't get at home. We rarely see the parents, which leads us to believe that a lot of them are home alone. We can't help but feel good about what we're doing."

Warehouse assistant Shawna Graves says she's seen the overall demand at the Food Bank jump by a full third this year, with more young people showing up. To exacerbate matters, donations are down due to the growing number of nonprofits in the area.

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"It's a daily struggle but we're making it happen," said Bob Dion, warehouse manager. "When it comes to the USDA food — if there's a fire, tornado or hurricane, we don't get as much food delivered. Sometimes we find ourselves paying out of our own pockets because we don't want to turn anyone away. We serve a lot of seniors and people with disabilities. If not for the donations from the good people of this county the food bank wouldn't exist."

Funded by both United Way of Nevada County and donations to the Food Bank, the Summer Lunch Program has given away as many as 130 children's lunches in a day. Despite a growing need, numbers have kept steady this summer thanks to a new program. The Grass Valley Library is now offering free, healthy lunches to all children ages 18 and under, courtesy of the Grass Valley School District Child Nutrition Services and the Nevada County Public Health Department.

Food Bank volunteer Dan Parker said children as young as 2 have come out at the apartment complexes for a bag lunch. The oldest are in their teens.

"They are polite and appreciative, almost without fail," he said. "When I started volunteering it was shocking to realize just how many people don't have enough food. The kids are so happy, just with a simple lunch."

To donate, volunteer or learn more, contact the Nevada County Food Bank at 530-272-3796.

To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email Cory@theunion.com.