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Area programs fill summer food gap for children

By Melissa Greene mgreene@news-journal.com
June 14, 2013 at 10 p.m.

When the white van pulls into the Belaire Manor Apartments parking lot each weekday afternoon, 7-year-old Tamara L'Shey knows something good is happening.

"I be ready to eat!" she said Friday, between bites of pasta and green beans.

Tamara was one of the first children to approach the van loaded with nutritious lunches provided to youngsters who qualify for free or reduced lunches during the school year.

In 2011, 73 percent of Gregg County students qualified to participate in the program - just more than 10,000 children - and more than 50,000 summer meals were served, according to the Texas Hunger Project.

When school lets out for the summer, federal and state programs continue to offer help when family food budgets may not be sufficient.

After nine months of usually providing one meal per day for children, summertime means families need to supply two more.

"For each child I think you would add at least $10 a day," said Buckner Director Jane Ann Crowson.

For two children, that could amount to an additional $140 each week.

"So they're not eating," Crowson said.

That's where summer food programs come in.

The East Texas Food Bank program provides more than 100 Longview children with lunch each weekday at four sites around town.

Two of those sites - Belaire Manor and Hidden Hills on Gilmer Road - are sponsored by Buckner Children and Family Services.

Crowson said the Gilmer Road site is new this year.

"The way we got connected with (Hidden Hills) is that a resident out there used to be a resident (at Belaire), and she knew Buckner did feeding here, and she was interested in us coming there," Crowson said.

Crowson helped serve lunches Friday to about 25 children seated under shade trees at the Belaire complex on East Young Street.

"We wouldn't be able to do it without the food bank, and the food bank couldn't do it without us," she said. "So it's a really good way organizations can provide for the kids."

The food bank's summer program began eight years ago with meals served at 13 sites, said spokeswoman Karolyn Davis.

The organization estimates about 140,000 meals will be served at 61 sites across 26 counties during the 10-week program this summer, Davis said.

One in four East Texas children are at risk for hunger, meaning that at some point they may not know where their next meal is coming from, she said.

"Mom and Dad could be doing fine, and then the water heater goes out or the air conditioning or someone gets sick, and the food budget gets taken from to cover those items," she said.

The economic instability of the past few years has affected the need for food assistance in East Texas.

"We have seen working families that were doing well and even making donations that are now recipients because times got tough," Davis said. "And some just need a little extra help over the summer."

The organization does not require children to register to receive food, and while the program is operated through the Texas Department of Agriculture, the bank sends more food than what funding provides.

"We want to make sure there is enough food to allow seconds if they are still hungry," Davis said.

The remainder is covered by donations, which can be made through the Food Bank website at easttexasfoodbanks.org.

Longview ISD also participates in the national Summer Food Program through the Texas Department of Agriculture, because more than 50 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunch.

"Some local schools participate in a summer food program, and that's wonderful. We just want to make sure kids are fed," Davis said.



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