Close to 30,000 low-income people in The Second Harvest Food Bank’s three-county service area don’t have walkable access to nutritious and affordable food — 22,000 of those people are in Clark County alone.
It’s called “food insecurity,” and the nonprofit is launching a free summer meal program in order to curb the problem.
The Summer Food Program kicked off on Tuesday at three locations across Clark County — New Carlisle Elementary, Hayward Middle School in Springfield and the Springfield YMCA.
New Carlisle resident, Chris Yurkowski came to the school with his girlfriend and his two grandchildren, Blaine Russell and Gaige Yurkowski who are students in the Tecumseh School District.
“The meals are great, especially for people in hard times,” he said. “My girlfriend and I are on Social Security, so it’s kind of hard to do everything, and this program is awesome.”
The program provides meals for both kids and their parents every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. At the end of the week, families are sent home with a bag of food and fresh produce to eat until they’re able to visit again the following Tuesday. The take-home bag includes breakfast items, shelf-stable milk and a couple microwavable dinners.
Tyra Jackson, Executive Director of Second Harvest Food Bank said the program was collaboratively funded. The nonprofit received a $50,000 grant through Feeding America, $7,500 through the Community Health Foundation and a state program provides the funding to send home food over the weekend.
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“During the school year, the students receive two healthy meals during the day and we really don’t know what occurs on the weekends and especially in the summers,” she said.
Jackson said a school food pantry will also be set up in the near future.
“We’re just trying to get more nutritional food into the households,” she said. “It’s important to take things home for the entire family to partake.”
But the program doesn’t stop at just solving the problem of food accessibility. Jackson also wants to bring in nonprofit organizations to give out information about services during the meals. The Ohio State University Extension Office and SNAP-Ed will be at New Carlisle on Tuesdays, the YMCA on Wednesdays and Hayward on Thursdays. Head Start will also have a presence at the three locations.
“We’re just really looking to collaborate with the community to make sure we are providing as many services as possible to help the whole family,” Jackson said.
Paula Crew, Superintendent of Tecumseh Local Schools said she hopes the program will have a big impact in the district — where about 53 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunches.
“Research shows good nutrition is paramount for our students’ success for maximum learning,” she said.
Crew said the school already works with an organization called IMPACT Bethel, which provides lunches at Smith Park in New Carlisle and Raynor Park in Park Layne.
“This is one opportunity that will help our families and our children,” she said.
The food is prepared by Wittenberg University’s catering service, Parkhurst Dining.
If this pilot program is successful, it could expand to Champaign and Logan counties within the next couple years. Jackson said 60 students received meals at Hayward Tuesday, and 15 minutes into the program at New Carlisle, 30 people were already served.
Meals will be served at New Carlisle every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday until July 26, and at Hayward and The YMCA until Aug. 2.