The Summer Food Program is serving free lunches to Key Peninsula children in need, along with their families, at the Key Peninsula Civic Center every Monday, Wednesday and Friday throughout the summer.
An extension of Backpacks 4 Kids, which provides food for students to take home over weekends during the school year, food for the program comes in through the new FISH food bank at Key Center. The program also receives funds to purchase food from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI). The Peninsula School District qualifies for the OSPI funds because of the high percentage of students receiving free and reduced lunches at three area schools.
However, with the funds come strict nutritional requirements similar to the requirements for school lunches. Each meal must contain milk, meat or other protein, grains, as well as three-quarters cup of fruits and vegetables.
Program supervisor Karen Jorgenson is proud of the fresh, healthy meals served. What sets the Summer Food Program apart, she said, is its wonderful cooks, who prepare many foods from scratch. On the menu one day in July was turkey with gravy and cranberry sauce. There also were carrots that had been freshly diced and steamed, and buttery, homemade mashed potatoes.
Jorgenson, who has been involved with the food bank for four years, has seen an increased need for food and services in the area, with many guests reliant on the program for an extended period of time.
“Year after year some of the same families participate. They count on us,” Jorgenson said. The food bank at Key Center also has been busy, she noted, sometimes serving as many as 40 patrons a day.
Area resident Kathie Black, who stopped by recently for a meal with her children, agrees that the program is helpful to the community. “If I didn’t have this program, sometimes the kids wouldn’t eat. The food is great. I have no complaints,” she said.
Guests without transportation to the Civic Center can catch a free shuttle at Palmer Lake. Upon arriving, each guest signs in and washes hands. Parents are not required to complete any forms or provide proof of income. Several folding tables set up around the Whitmore Room give families a place to eat together. Jorgenson moves around the room chatting with guests, her smile warm and welcoming.
Before guests leave, Jorgenson always makes sure one or two items are sent home with them. Sometimes these are household items, such as linens. Early in the summer, books were given out to keep children reading while out of school.
Many food items don’t work well for the Backpacks 4 Kids program simply because they are too big to fit in the backpacks or too heavy for kids to carry home. These are saved to give out during the summer program as well. On a recent day, oversized boxes of corn flakes were sent home along with heavy jugs of grapefruit juice.
Jorgenson is inspired to stay involved with the program when she sees how excited the children are to be there, frequently asking what will be served for lunch next time. She also feels grateful for the generosity of her Key Peninsula neighbors. “Without the support of the community, we couldn’t feed these kids,” she said.
Area residents interested in donating to FISH food bank can get more information at ghpfish.com/donate.html. Free lunches are offered Monday, Wednesday and Friday at Key Peninsula Civic Center from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.