Bexley News

Summer meal program

Team filling the gap for students in need

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

While the number of students who rely on a free or reduced-price lunch during the school year in Bexley remains relatively low, district personnel and volunteers are reaching out this summer in a new, locally funded program.

Every Friday, volunteers from Bexley deliver a bag of groceries to 20 families, providing breakfast and lunch to approximately 50 children in the community.

Organizers said they started small this year, but hope to expand the 10-week program in years to come.

Of the 5 billion meals provided to 31 million students nationally during the 2011-12 school year through the National School Lunch Program, 59 percent were free of charge and 9 percent were provided at a reduced price.

In Bexley, the number of students receiving free and reduced-price lunches is a combined 12 percent.

But while Bexley school board member Mike Denison -- one of the program's organizers -- points out the community is fortunate enough to have such a low free and reduced lunch rate, children still go hungry during the summer months in Bexley. According to his numbers, more than 240 children in Bexley receive food assistance during the school year, not including those who attend local preschools and private institutions.

"This is an issue that affects even affluent communities," Denison said. "There are families who need help, even if it is intermittent."

Because of Bexley's low free and reduced lunch rates, the federal government does not step in to provide a summer program, as it does in some area communities. So Denison said he and members of the school district's Family and Civic Engagement Committee came up with a program to fill in the gap.

"This is a very complicated thing to put together," said Denison, who admitted the idea of a summer lunch program has been floating around for some time. "But this year, things just had the right momentum and the right people to make it all happen."

Working with school-based administration and counselors throughout the community, the project's organizers identified 20 families in need. Then, they set up a network of volunteers who get together on Fridays to bag breakfast and lunch items, such as fresh fruit, carrots, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cheese and turkey, and milk and juice, in grocery bags for each family. The items in each bag are to feed the children breakfast and lunch for an entire week.

Members of the Developmental Assets Resource Network then deliver the food to each home every Friday.

According to Denison, door-to-door delivery was an important component of the program.

"Transportation is always an issue," he said, "and we felt we couldn't have the impact we wanted (without delivery). That was the key thought that made this all work."

Denison stressed that the effort is definitely a collaborative among the Bexley City School District and other surrounding schools, as well as DARN, the district's Health and Wellness Committee, the Bexley Farmers Market, the Bexley Public Library, Friends of the Bexley Public Library, the Bexley Community Foundation and the St. Vincent de Paul Society.

Over the next two years, Denison said organizers hope to identify 30 families each year who would be eligible for the program. By year five, he hopes to serve some 50 percent of Bexley's families in need -- eventually providing for all children in Bexley who need assistance over the summer months.

The program is funded through the Bexley Community Foundation, DARN and the St. Vincent de Paul Society.

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