Summer Food Program

Release date: 06/17/2009
Sponsored by: Health & Human Services Department

Sunny Ross is happy about what she does. In 2006, the Summer Food Program she coordinates served 100,000 meals to children 1 – 18 years of age at 25 sites. This year there are 45 sites and more than 210,000 meals will be served. "Getting nutritious meals to children is really satisfying," she says.

Ross is a Program Specialist with Washington County's Commission on Children and Families. This is the fourth year she's been leading the program. Her duties call for her to line up meal sites, coordinate with the school districts that provide the USDA funded meals, and arrange the activities that go with the meals. She also supervises six interns, whose positions are funded with federal "stimulus" money.

"My main job is to create awareness about the program, so that parents know that there is somewhere they can send their children to get nutritious meals." She gives presentations to groups like faith communities, where she can reach families herself, and to food bank meetings, where she gives information for others to spread. They send out flyers in food boxes, have them available at shelters, and give them to case managers, food stamp clients, WIC program participants and Head Start families. Ross also works with libraries and literacy programs to get the word out. And she's posted a lot of banners.

"One of the reasons our program is growing so much is that there are 'enhanced components' to the meals, things like nutrition education, arts and crafts, and organized games." These are mostly coordinated by a variety of community partner groups. Additionally, the WIC program sends representatives who distribute toothbrushes to the children. Six interns with the program visit the different sites to speak to the children about physical activity, trying new foods and the value of fruits and vegetables.

"The idea is to bring food to where the children are," says Ross. "It's a burden on many parents, who have to leave their children alone during the day, to get them to food programs. By having them in 45 sites around Washington County, the children get fed and don't have to go far from home. Parents don't have to worry that their kids are safe." Meal sites are at schools, parks, apartment complexes, anywhere children can congregate.   

"In this economy, I expect that there are many families who will be depending on this program for their children," says Ross. And to make the meals more accessible, kids don't have to "pre-register" or show any proof of eligibility; they just need to be between 1 and 18 years old. "This reduces barriers that families face when they try to access services."

Some sites are large: one of the Beaverton schools hosts 300 – 400 children each day, others as few as 20 – 50. Sites at school kitchens offer hot meals with a salad bar. Other sites without kitchens offer lunches that consist of a sandwich, fruit, a vegetable and milk.  All the meal sites are inspected by the County Environmental Health staff and all the people involved in meal preparation and delivery are trained in safe food handling.

Almost every school district in the state has a Summer Food Program. To find meal sites locally, visit www.summerfoodoregon.org.

Contact:

Sunny Ross, Program Specialist
503-756-3407
sunny_ross@co.washington.or.us