By Daniel Kelley
NEWARK Del. (Reuters) – Hunger relief workers are getting creative at keeping small bellies full when U.S. schools – along with their free or reduced-price meals – close for summer.
An old logging camp in Oregon, a book mobile in Kentucky, and a karate studio in Delaware are just some of the unusual venues being used to gather low-income rural or suburban kids and hand out the food they need to get by until school cafeterias re-open in September.
George Lunski distributes about 700 meals a week to kids along a 40-mile route near Newark, Delaware. His stop-off points include the leasing offices of a low-income housing development, a riverfront park, a karate studio, and the driveway of a non-profit organization.
“I never knew there were so many people in need,” said Lunski, a retired production supervisor at a local chemical plant.
Lunski, who delivers meals from a van loaded with coolers, said the Food Bank of Delaware’s Summer Food Service Program was “really an eye-opener” about how widespread poverty is in the ninth richest U.S. state.
For families that rely on free or reduced-price lunch or breakfast, summer can mean the loss of 10 meals per week per child, advocates for the poor say, a cost many working poor families cannot afford.
A variety of programs across the country have sprung up to replace those lost calories, but they tend to be underutilized.
Nationally, only one in seven children who receive free or reduced-price lunch during the school year take advantage of the summer meals programs, according to Food Research and Action Center, an anti-hunger advocacy group. Delaware has a better response, at one in five.
Gathering children for a meal is less difficult in big cities where there is public transportation, but in suburban and rural areas, where the needy need cars to get to soup kitchens and food banks, hunger relief groups are thinking outside the box.
In Oregon, Food for Lane County feeds kids in an old logging camp, at a post office and other rural sites that might lack such things as picnic tables, shade trees, or even bathrooms.
“When we put up sites in rural areas, they don’t necessarily have all the amenities you want but it’s where the kids can get to,” said Karen Roth, Child Nutrition Programs Manager at Food for Lane County, in Eugene, Oregon.
In Lexington, Kentucky, one food bank has partnered with the local library, putting food for about 600 needy children on a book mobile operated in rural Lewis County.
“We’re challenging ourselves to be creative and to think about how to get food to low income kids,” said Marian Guinn, CEO of God’s Pantry Food Bank.
In the driveway of Child, Inc, a Newark, Delaware, non-profit that provides education training and domestic abuse counseling to residents of the tough Sparrow Run neighborhood, about 80 kids line up every weekday. Volunteers drop turkey sandwiches, milk, pretzels, and a breakfast for the next day.
Alisha Mock, a 29 year-old mother raising two boys on a social security disability check in Newark, says that if food was not delivered to her neighborhood, she would probably have to take a bus to a food pantry or soup kitchen. That would get expensive.
“I wouldn’t be able to do it every day,” Mock said.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg, Jill Serjeant and Marguerita Choy)