Going into the new school year, leaders with the Sequim Food Bank are eyeing a more nutritious effort for students in-need through the Weekend Meals for Students Program.
Last year, the food bank continued its partnership with area churches to fund raise, prepare and deliver 150 weekend meals per week to Sequim schools. The effort began two years ago with attendees of the Sequim Valley Church of the Nazarene delivering weekend meals to 13 Helen Haller Elementary students.
Andra Smith, executive director for the food bank, said she and a few others have been working hard this summer to make the program more nutritious. She asked Dr. Monica Dixon, a registered dietician and president of the Olympic Pensinsula Healthy Communitites Coalition, to analyze the children’s meals and see what could be done.
Smith said beforehand the priority was simply seeking to get meals to children in-need because it was the group’s first time working in the program.
After much thought, she felt the program “went directly against our own food bank’s initiatives,” Smith said.
“What we were doing didn’t make sense. What we’re looking to do is create a healthier environment for our visitors which in turn creates a healthier community.”
Some of those initiatives have been ongoing for sometime including additions of a produce fridge, offering alternatives to staples such as brown rice and wheat bread, and bringing in a nutrition educator every other Monday from the Washington State University Extension office.
With the weekend meals, Smith said they will give out 19 items for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks while sticking to a $7 per child budget.
“That took a lot of shopping around,” she said.
“We researched what other groups were doing.”
Dixon said she looked at childrens’ nutrient profile to make sure they were getting everything they’d need for the weekend.
Gone are mini-boxed cereals because they had too much added sugar, Dixon said, and now meals include bagged Honey Nut Cheerios, bagels and packets of peanutbutter that middle school students at the Boys & Girls Club will prepare.
Also out are granola bars, fruit juice, ramen noodles and instant microwave items for protein bars, milk and three pieces of produce.
However, Dixon said they didn’t want to be radical with the changes.
“We’ll keep looking at (the food) as we go along,” she said.
“We just felt we saw a lack of integrity in the foods.”
Along with the food and drinks will be recipes to help the children navigate their meals.
With school starting on Aug. 31, letters for in-need families to participate will go out this week allowing families the opportunity to opt in.
Smith anticipates starting with 150 bags each weekend and adding more as the school year goes on.
As the program begins its weekly routine, volunteers from the Nazarene Church, Sequim Valley Foursquare Church, Sequim Seventh-day Adventist Church and The King’s Way prepare bags for Greywolf Elementary on Wednesdays and on Thursday mornings Adventist Church volunteers prepare the other schools’ bags. Bags of food are delivered to each building on Thursday and distributed anonymously on Fridays to students to take home.
Last year, the Sequim School District reported about 1,200 students participated in the free/reduced lunch programs.
Smith said students being hungry and/or worrying about if they’ll eat over the weekend can lead to behavioral issues at the end of the week and as school begins.
The program costs the food bank about $41,000 to operate with $30 feeding a child for a month and $300 for a school year.
Stephen Rosales, the food bank’s board president, said they continue to seek donations but will do the program even if it cuts into their operating budget.
“We’re totally committed to this project,” Smith said. “Our vision is that no one goes hungry in our community.”
The program receives funding from churches, private donors and local organizations such as the Olympic Peninsula Bluebills and Sequim Elks.
For more information on the Weekend Meals for Students Program, contact the Sequim Food Bank, 144 W. Alder St., at 683-1205 or 461-6038. Reach Sequim Valley Church of the Nazarene, 481 Carlsborg Road, at 683-8642.
Reach Matthew Nash at firstname.lastname@example.org.