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Oregon's Summer Food Service Program Wants To Serve More Kids

<p>Students at Rigler School select their daily required servings of fruits and veggies from a salad bar.</p>

Phoebe Flanigan

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Students at Rigler School select their daily required servings of fruits and veggies from a salad bar.

The Oregon Department of Education's Summer Food Service Program works with sponsors to feed kids ages 0 to 18 throughout the summer months. 

Last summer, the program had more than 800 sites across the state and served more than 1.5 million meals. Still, there are children and teenagers in need who aren't being served, said child nutrition specialist and Summer Food Program outreach coordinator Jessica Visinsky.

"We have roughly 307,000, a little bit over that, children who are eligible for free and reduced meals in our school lunch program and right now we only serve about 40,000 of them in our summer meal program,” Visinsky said. 

The program, which is federally funded and state administrated, already serves most counties in Oregon, Visinski said, but there are still gaps that need to be filled. 

Specifically, the program is looking for more sponsor sites in 15 counties: Clackamas, Deschutes, Grant, Jackson, Lincoln, Marion, Morrow, Multnomah, Sherman, Tillamook, Union, Wallowa, Wasco, Wheeler and Yamhill.

"We're already serving these counties, but we know we can serve more and that's really what we want to do," Visinsky said. 

The Summer Food Service Program varies from sponsor to sponsor. Some are located in parks or schools, others in YMCAs or Boys and Girls Clubs. Visinsky said some are also located libraries to partner with summer reading programs.

"It's an important program, because it really converts that summer gap into a summer boost," she said. "Kids tend to lose a lot of that content that they've learned during the school year when school is out, and when we're able to provide nutritious meals that they need over those summer months, it really helps them to retain that content or even learn more if there are enrichment or education activities surrounding that meal program."

Any children ages 18 and under can participate, Visinsky said. They do not need to be registered in a certain school district and do not even need to be from Oregon, as she says, parents traveling through Oregon are encouraged to bring their children to any of the programs. 

"This program, while it is about feeding kids, it's also about creating community," Visinsky said.

Sponsors can be "anyone from school districts to nonprofit organizations, for-profit organizations, faith-based organizations," she said. "It's really open to anyone who wants to participate."

Sponsors can apply by April 19 with the Oregon Department of Education on its website to participate in the program.

Copyright 2019 Oregon Public Broadcasting

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Meerah Powell is a general assignment and breaking news reporter for OPB. She previously worked as a news reporter and podcast producer for Eugene Weekly in her hometown of Eugene, Oregon. Along with writing and audio work, Meerah also has experience with photography and videography. She graduated from the University of Oregon's School of Journalism and Communication.