Schools: Free lunches fill need in community
The temperature was creeping into the mid-80s as volunteers served fettucine alfredo, fruit salad, cucumbers, bread sticks and corn at Atfalati Park this Monday, but trees provided plenty of shade for dozens of families to sit and enjoy their meals.
It was an ideal day for the Summer Food Service Program, a national program, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, that funds free lunches for people 18 and younger, and affordable $3.50 meals for adults. The Tigard-Tualatin and Beaverton School Districts both participate in the program, as do other districts in Washington County.
"Hot food is actually more popular," said Diane Wylie, food service manager for the Tigard-Tualatin School District, as she watched kids line up for their meals. "It draws a lot more attendance, and smiles and positivity behind it."
Wylie has been coordinating the summer meals program for the district since it started in 2008. She follows the USDA guidelines of "no questions asked," meaning that everyone is welcome to attend a feeding, and all people younger than 18 are entitled to a free meal. The federal government reimburses states for each meal served.
"We're self-sufficient," Wylie said. "There's no (district) general fund dollars going into this."
According to Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici's office, the summer lunch program would likely be affected if funding for school meals was cut, which is an option Republicans have placed on the table.
"School meals make a positive difference for students, and I've seen that in schools across Northwest Oregon," the congresswoman said. "Access to nutritious foods supports children's healthy development, and it helps them succeed in the classroom. But once again, the majority in Congress is proposing to cut budgets even though there are still many hungry students in schools. Cuts to school meal programs are short-sighted because healthy children are more likely to become productive adults."
Each district operates feeding sites every week day — in Tigard-Tualatin, that can mean as many as 12 sites per day, though it varies from district to district — and those sites include schools, parks and libraries. Wylie said that Atfalati Park is the most popular Tigard-Tualatin site, likely because it is easily walkable for families.
In the Beaverton School District, Beaverton City Park is among the most popular sites. Attendance has been up in some sites and down in others in both districts, but typically, the sites that have more to offer are the most heavily attended.