For those one out of nearly every four children in our greater Tri-Cities area, that uncertainty and the risk of child hunger increases exponentially when schools recess for summer and the federal free and reduced-price school meals program that many low-income families depend on during the school year is no longer available.
Compounding that risk, the Second Harvest Food Bank Food for Kids backpacks sent home every other weekend with schoolchildren who qualify for the free and reduced-price school meals are not available when school is out. The nonprofit after-school programs that provide hundreds of at-risk children with nutritious snacks, and in many cases evening meals, are also not available in summer.
Filling the “summer hunger gap” for local children is a multi-faceted effort, involving agencies from the U.S. Department of Agriculture down through the Tennessee Department of Human Services, Second Harvest Food Bank, area school systems and many of the community’s nonprofit organizations.
On Wednesday, the TDHS announced its Summer Food Service Program meal sites for children ages 18 and younger have opened statewide. Funded by the USDA, the meal sites are located at community centers, schools, parks and other locations and will be available through the early August start of the new school year.
Families with children in need of food may find the meal site closest to their home by visiting www.fns.usda.gov/summerfoodrocks, www.kidcentraltn.com or by texting "food" to 877-877.
Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee also kicked off its summer food service programs for children this week at stationary meals sites across the eight-county region and in rural neighborhoods in several of those counties served by the food bank’s Lunch Express delivery buses.
Familiar Johnson City locations on the food bank’s list of of stationary meal sites include Memorial Park Community Center, the Johnson City Public Library, the Boys & Girls Club of Washington County/Johnson City, Girls Inc., Faith Fellowship Church and others.
Unicoi County meals sites include the YMCA on Love Street, the Unicoi County Library on Railroad Street and the Erwin Housing Authority on Carolina Avenue.
In rural areas not located within easy access of a stationary meal site, the food bank has four Lunch Express buses making daily stops in neighborhoods, low-income housing complexes and elsewhere.
Second Harvest is encouraging any family with a child in need of food in Washington, Carter, Unicoi, Johnson, Sullivan, Hawkins or Hancock counties to call the food bank at 423-279-0430 for the location of the stationary meal site or Express Lunch bus stop nearest their home.
Second Harvest’s summer programs are made possible by support from the USDA, No Kid Hungry, Share Our Strength; Arby’s Hometown Heroes, the Laughlin Foundation and by private donations. Through June 16, CenturyLink will match 100 percent of all donations to Second Harvest’s summer programs up to $1 million nationwide. To qualify for the match, donations must be made online at www.centurylink.com/fooddrive, where contributors will find the Second Harvest serving their areas listed by state and by region.
In addition to several Second Harvest meal sites and Lunch Express bus stops in Carter County, the Carter County School System has also launched a new Lunch and Literacy program providing free daily meals to any child age 18 and under. The program started this week at Cloudland Elementary. It will continue on a weekly rotation at Hampton, Happy Valley and Unaka high schools through the end of June.
The program is funded with support from the USDA and also includes bags of nonperishable food items from Second Harvest for the children to take home, while supplies last. More information about the program may be obtained by calling 423-547-2917.
Also in Carter County, the TLC Community Center kicked off its summer of meal deliveries to the homes of at-risk children age 18 and younger on Monday and will continue the deliveries weekdays through Aug. 4.
The TLC meal delivery routes include many of the county’s apartment complexes, housing developments and trailer parks. Families with children in need of food who do not live on a TLC delivery route may pick up meals at the community center located in Watauga Industrial Park off Tenn. Highway 91 near the Elizabethton Municipal Airport.
The TLC meal deliveries are funded entirely by private donations. More information about the program may be obtained by calling 423-895-8601.
If there is a need or a project in your neighborhood the Good Neighbor column can assist with, contact Sue Guinn Legg at 423-722-0538 or P.O. Box 1717, Johnson City, TN 37605.
Email Sue Guinn Legg at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @sueleggjcpress. Like her on Facebook at facebook.com/sueleggjcpress.