Food bank looks to nourish in more ways than one | Editorial

This week some may be surprised to read in a story about the food bank’s new summer lunch program (page 12) that nearly a quarter of the students on Vashon qualify for free or reduced meals at island schools. In a fairly affluent community, the food bank hasn’t forgotten that many families on Vashon struggle and that they’ll continue to struggle after school lets out this month. Some families will have to provide two more meals a day for at least one child that normally eats at school.

Vashon’s food bank is working to lend a hand to these families, but in a way that’s creative and appropriate for Vashon. They’re inviting all island families, regardless of their income, to gather a few times a week for food and activities at Ober Park. Doing so addresses not only families’ financial needs — those who can will be asked to donate for kids’ lunches — but another perennial summer problem. Studies have shown that students experience learning loss over the long summer months, so much so that many districts around the country are now turning to year-round school. One study even found that more than half of the achievement gap between lower- and higher-income youth can be explained by unequal access to summer learning opportunities. For parents, it can be hard to find productive and stimulating activities for children to do over the summer, and many camps and extra-curricular activities are out of reach for families with limited means. The food bank, at its new summer lunch program at Ober Park, will provide equal access to fun as well as some educational activities to all children who attend.

Unlike some communities, Vashon doesn’t qualify for federal funds to offer such a summer meal program, but the food bank is making it happen anyway. With enough participation and support by volunteers, this program has the potential to be very enriching for Vashon children, providing nourishment for their bodies as well as their minds. Islanders, regardless of their background, should consider taking kids at least once a week to this new program, or even volunteering if possible — some specific volunteers will be needed to have robust educational activities. It’s a program that will only thrive if the community steps up and gets involved.

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