Feeding frenzy: Summer feeding programs set; food pantries seeking support

by Cristin Parker cristin@thecherokeean.com
Courtesy photo
A HOPE Manna Pantry representative peruses the Pantry’s offering recently. HOPE and other local food pantries are asking residents to help them keep their cupboards stocked through the summer months. Non-perishable food and personal hygiene items are always needed. Courtesy photo
A HOPE Manna Pantry representative peruses the Pantry’s offering recently. HOPE and other local food pantries are asking residents to help them keep their cupboards stocked through the summer months. Non-perishable food and personal hygiene items are always needed.

Temperatures aren’t the only thing on the rise in east Texas.

Federal, state and local officials report food insecurity for children and the elderly in Cherokee County and across the state increases through the summer months as school lets out and donations to local food banks all but disappear. Fortunately, several entities across Cherokee County are offering free breakfasts and lunches to all local school-aged children up to 18 years of age.

“These meals are free to any child, age 18 or under, regardless of their financial state,” Child Nutrition Department Director John Hood said. “All they have to do is show up during serving time and they’ll get a tasty meal, completely for free.”

Cherokee County schools offering summer meals are:

- Alto ISD will offer breakfast and lunch, Monday-Thursday, June 3-27, at the Alto Elementary School campus. Breakfast will be served from 7:30-8 a.m.; and lunch will be served from noon to 12:20 p.m.

- New Summerfield ISD is serving breakfast and lunch Monday-Thursday through June 27 at the school, 13307 State Highway 110 S. Breakfast is served from 7-8:30 a.m.; and lunch is served from 11 a.m. to noon.

- Rusk ISD will provide free lunches from noon to 12:20 p.m., Monday-Thursday, June 3-20 at the Rusk Primary School campus, 440 Collins St., Rusk.

These programs are offered in partnership with the Texas Department of Agriculture’s Seamless Summer Nutrition Program and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Summer Meals Program. Both programs were established to ensure children in low-income areas continue to receive nutritious meals during the summer months.

“During the school year, 22 million children receive free or reduced-priced meals through the National School Lunch Program,” the USDA’s website states. “When school is out during the summer months, however, only 3.76 million receive free or reduced-price meals through the USDA Summer Food Service Program.

“This gap of roughly one in six summer to school-time participants is the result of various barriers experienced only during the summer, including a lack of access to meal sites, insufficient program awareness, and limited resources when schools are closed.”

Other locations have teamed up with the East Texas Food Bank to also provide free meals and activities for local youth.

“There’s just not enough to do for kids in the summer around here,” meal site organizer Danny Session said. “We wanted to make sure, not only do they not go hungry, but they have somewhere they can come to have fun and stay out of trouble, at least for an hour or so.”

Session has helped organize Unity & Support’s summer lunch site at Conley Park, 138 Reeder St., in Rusk. That site will serve free lunches to school aged children noon to 1 p.m., Monday-Friday, June 3-28.

“Last year we went longer but we didn’t have a whole lot of participation, so this year we had to shorten the program,” Session said. “However, if we do get more participation this year, we are able to extend how long we’ll be able to serve our kids, because we know the need is great and keeps growing.

“Anyone who’s interested in coming out and helping serve, provide an activity or donate to the program can call me, (928) 235-0571 or just come by the park during serving time. We’d love to have you get involved.”

That site’s menu will offer chicken, pepperoni and cheese sub sandwiches; Italian combo wraps; turkey, ham or cheese wedge sandwiches; fresh fruits and veggies; and milk.

Children do not have to register or pick up a meal ticket to get their food. Meals will not be available on the weekends or on July 4.

According to the Food Research & Action Center’s ‘Hunger Doesn’t Take a Vacation: Summer Nutrition Status Report,’ many children lose access to nutritious school meals when the school year ends. The 2018 report found “only 3 million children received a nutritious summer lunch on an average weekday in July 2017 through the Summer Nutrition Programs, compared to the 20 million children participating in free and reduced-price school lunch during the 2016–2017 school year.

“Even fewer children — 1.6 million — ate breakfast at a summer meals site in July 2017.”

The summer food programs saw a 4.8 percent drop in participation across the nation last year.

“It’s time to redouble efforts to ensure more low-income children have access to summer meals sites where they can eat healthy foods, learn, and play in a safe environment,” Food Research & Action Center President Jim Weill stated in a release published on the Center’s website.

Additional summer food program sites serving Cherokee County children through June include:

Sweet Union Apartments, 1011 N. Jackson St., Jacksonville. Lunch will be served from noon to 12:30 p.m. Monday-Friday, June 3-28;

The WIC Clinic, 335 Neches St., Jacksonville. Lunch will be served from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Monday-Friday, June 3 through Aug. 16.

The Fairview Community Center, 17053 CR 4247 W., Reklaw. Lunch will be served from 11:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m., Monday-Thursday, June 3-27.

According to its website, in 2018, the East Texas Food Bank provided over 65,000 meals to children through the Summer Food Program at 80 sites.

“Our children need nutritious meals to learn, grow and thrive, even when school is out,” ETFB’s website states. “With one in four East Texas children being food insecure, school lunches play an important role. But what happens during the summer time? The Summer Food Program helps fill that hunger gap ensuring that children continue to receive nutritious meals during the summer.”

A good place for anyone get a summer lunch is the HOPE (Helping Others Pursue Enrichment) Inc.’s HOPE Kitchen, which serves a healthy meal to anyone who walks in the door from 11:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m., Monday-Thursday, at the Kitchen, 595 S. Ragsdale St., Jacksonville.

HOPE and 10 other food sources in Cherokee County need residents’ support in the summer as well – to make sure local senior citizens and others are getting well-rounded meals, too.

“Some seniors are forced to make tough choices between paying their utilities, buying life-saving medications or purchasing food,” HOPE’s website states.

HOPE’s Senior Box Program, designed to improve the health and nutrition of senior citizens, provides a free box of nutritious food to local seniors who may have little or no access to food assistance. Seniors can receive boxes 1-3 p.m., every third Wednesday at the HOPE office.

Senior Box Program applicants must be 60 years of age or older. Proof of gross income is required. Anyone currently receiving food stamps, Social Security disability or Medicaid, automatically qualify. Household gross income must be at or below $1,316 for a family of one to $3,188 for a family of five.

HOPE’s Manna Pantry also provides non-perishable, staple food items for those in need, regardless of family size. Applicants are interviewed by case managers and qualified clients receive items from the Manna Pantry one time each month.

One local food pantry is currently experiencing a greater-than-average influx of need.

The Alto Food Pantry is currently operating out of The Chaparral Center’s location, 176 W. San Antonio St., Alto, as tornadoes that swept through the city on April 13 did extensive damage to the Pantry’s building on Cooper Street. Despite the damage to its building, the Pantry is still working to make sure other tornado victims aren’t going hungry.

“If your home was damaged from the 04/13/2019 tornadoes, please come by The Chaparral Center to register for the monthly food distribution,” the Pantry’s Facebook page states. “Under normal circumstances, clients must meet certain income guidelines; however, after a disaster or an emergency, clients could qualify under disaster assistance for a specified number of months.

“The pantry is happy to assist your household with food so you can use what you would have spent on food to pay bills, fuel, home repairs, co-pays, deductibles, medicines, etc.”

Other food pantries serving Cherokee County residents include:

- Wells Interfaith Pantry, 130 N. Rusk St., Wells;

- Rusk Cares - Good Samaritan, 190 Second St., Rusk;

- River of Life Christian Center, 677 S. Dickinson St., Rusk;

- Society of St. Stephens UMC, 1031 SE Loop 456, Jacksonville; and

- Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church, 1023 Corinth Rd., Jacksonville.

Donations of non-perishable food items can be made anytime to the majority of the county’s local food banks.

Suitable donations include canned tuna, chicken and salmon; pastas of all kinds; dried beans, peas, lintels and rice; low-sugar cereals; applesauce, fruit cups and canned fruit cocktail in light syrup; and low-sodium canned veggies.