Food bank offers summer meals.
CORRECTION (Ran June 23, 2008) City/Region: The Summer Food Service Program for children runs from noon to 1 p.m. at most sites. A story on Page C1 Sunday gave incorrect hours.
With soaring prices for food and gas, organizers of the annual Summer Food Service Program for children are preparing for the possibility of bigger-than-ever crowds.
The program, in its 11th year, kicks off Monday at 62 sites throughout Lane County, including parks, churches, schools and apartment complexes. Run by FOOD for Lane County, it aims to pick up where the federal free and reduced-price school lunch program left off, now that classes have ended for the summer.
Last year, the program served between 2,200 and 3,000 meals per day, or about 127,000 over the summer; this year, that number is estimated to exceed 128,000.
"Fortunately we order on a weekly basis, so we are upping our beginning week and we'll pretty much see how it goes from there," said FOOD for Lane County's Karen Roth, manager of the summer program. "We're hoping that people realize that this is a great way to save money, to help with the gas increase and the food increase. Even participating in the summer food program a couple of times a week is going to save money for items people can't cut down on."
Any child between the ages of 1 and 18 is welcome, Roth said; there are no eligibility requirements, and no questions are asked.
At most sites, meals will be served between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., Monday through Friday. The program runs every week through Aug. 22. Entrees - one offering per day - include chicken nuggets, burritos, hamburgers and corn dogs, with cold sandwiches on Fridays. Fresh vegetables, fruit and milk are served with all meals, which meet or exceed federal nutritional standards.
Across the nation and in Oregon, demand at food banks and usage of food stamps are up. Barbara Butzer, program director for FOOD for Lane County, said workers at her agency and others are seeing growing ranks of first-time customers.
"When I attended a quarterly meeting of regional food banks in April, folks were reporting that there's a definite increase in the number of new families and individuals who are going to pantries," she said.
"There are people coming in who have never been to a food pantry before. It's a new experience for them. They're uncomfortable. They're embarrassed."
Butzer doesn't yet have figures for April and May, but the organization's numbers were up in the first quarter of 2008.
"What we see is a 5 percent increase in the number of households that are receiving food boxes, and a 7 percent increase in the number of individuals receiving the food," she said.
While many food banks are seeing a decline in donations at the same time demand is growing, Butzer said local donations remain strong.
"The food bank here in Lane County is so fortunate," she said. "We have very caring people, and we have resources in terms of food manufacturers and processors who donate regularly."
Lauri Stewart, spokeswoman for the Children, Adults and Families Division of the Oregon Department of Human Services, said the percentage of Oregonians receiving food stamps was up by 6.8 percent in April compared to April 2007; in Lane County, it was up 6.9 percent. More than one in 10 Oregonians receives food stamps, she said, among them nearly 51,000 residents of Lane County. Many of those are children, she said.
Sometimes people don't realize they're eligible for food stamps, she added, and sometimes pride or the complexities of the paperwork keep them from participating.
"There is and has long been a pretty significant gap between the people who are eligible and the people who are receiving food stamps," she said, noting that anyone making minimum wage would surely qualify. Anyone earning up to 185 percent of the federal poverty line qualifies, she said; that translates to about $2,700 a month for a family of three.
A complete list of sites and serving times for the Summer Food Service Program is available at www.foodforlanecounty.org, or by calling 343-2822.
Summer food program
A complete list of sites and serving times is available at www.foodforlanecounty.org, or by calling 343-2822.