Westerville News & Public Opinion

Federal budget cuts hit WARM's food program


The impact of the federal government's budget-cutting "sequester" will impact charitable operations of the Westerville Area Resource Ministry this summer, as it loses federally funded staff for its Westerville Area Kids Lunch Club.

Last year, the Kids Lunch Club was staffed with 16 AmeriCorps VISTA workers at no cost to WARM.

This year, WARM will have only 10 VISTA workers available for its programs and will have to bear $2,200 of the cost per worker. On top of that, WARM will have to hire 12 additional workers as the summer meals program for low income children grows from four sites to six.

"It's a significant impact," said WARM Operations Manager Deb Wallace. "Fortunately, Mount Carmel St. Ann's continues to be the primary funder. If it weren't for them, we probably would have to scale back rather than expand."

The Westerville Area Kids Lunch Club provides lunches and recreational programming during the Westerville City School District's summer vacation.

The lunch club aims to serve the more than 30 percent of Westerville students who are on the free and reduced-price lunch program during the school year.

In addition to serving anywhere from 50 to 100 kids at each site during the week, the program also provides children with backpacks full of food each Friday so they have meals through the weekend.

While the program does rely heavily on volunteers, Wallace said the regular employees are key because they can commit more time to the program and are on site each day, allowing them to build relationships with the families they serve.

"Volunteers do not usually have the ability or the inclination to be there every day," Wallace said. "It's important for our program that the children that come to the sites see the same person every day that they can count on to be there for fun, for the food, to solve problems, to talk to.

"It goes to the heart of our program, which is building relationships with the kids who need us."

VISTA workers also worked full-time at WARM during the summer months, doing other tasks such as manning the community garden, Wallace said. The employees directly hired by WARM will be part time only.

The Westerville Area Kids Lunch Club organizers also are hoping to secure more funds for the program.

The program is competing with other hunger-fighting programs to earn a $20,000 grant through Walmart's Fighting Hunger Together program.

Through April, WARM supporters can cast votes through the Walmart website, wm8.walmart.com/hunger, or through Facebook. The program that receives the most votes will earn the grant.

The grant would help WARM to cover the costs of the VISTA workers and the additional staff, as well as to purchase additional food service tents and picnic tables, and to further its nutrition programming, Wallace said.

"This year, if we get enough funding, we're going to incorporate health, nutrition and physical activity in an organized way," she said.

Despite the blow to the budget because of the federal budget cuts, WARM is determined to continue to grow the Kids Lunch Club because of the need in the community, Wallace said.

The organization that runs a local food pantry and also offers short-term economic support services for residents of the school district celebrated its 40th anniversary last year.

"We're resilient, and we're able to make due," she said. "To not have these lunches available means that family budgets would be strained to the breaking point, and children would not be getting the nutrition they needed during the summer."

Sequester means loss of staff funding for the group's summer lunch program