Bridging the gap: With school out for summer, groups keep lunch program going for children

(Editor's note: This version corrects the mailing address for donations in the 14th paragraph)

KINGSTON — Fifty-four percent of students at Wolfle Elementary depend on the school’s free and reduced lunch program for afternoon nutrition. And that number is on the rise.

Only 40 percent a year ago, the percentage of students eligible for the program is expected to climb to 68 percent in the 2011-12 school year, according to Wolfle learning specialist Pat Bennett-Forman.

And with summer school having ended Thursday, Wolfle staff and community members are concerned about meeting the students’ lunch needs until school starts in September.

Teaming up with the Kingston Food Bank, Wolfle started a program to make lunches available during the six-week gap, but the program needs the public’s help.

“Wolfle’s numbers keep rising. Sixty-eight percent is ... Whoa!,” Bennett-Forman said.

“Until the economy comes around, we can estimate it will be a problem for a while.”

Thanks to the Kingston Food Bank and local donors, six weeks’ worth of lunches are being provided to local children, beginning July 27.

About 60 children will receive lunches, approximately one-third of those who participate in the free and reduced lunch program.

Kingston Food Bank Director Barbara Fulton and volunteers will pack and distribute the food Wednesdays and Fridays from noon to 3 p.m. Each food pack will include sugar-free hot cocoa, peanut butter, bread, a can of tuna, string cheese, a fresh piece of fruit, a breakfast bar, a sugar-free juice pack, instant oatmeal, and a small pack of cookies “because they need to have a little treat,” Fulton said.

“I think this problem is extremely serious. I have new people coming in (to the Kingston Food Bank) every day.”

Donors include Cuppa Bella, Kingston Kiwanis, the Kingston and North Kitsap Rotary Foundation and residents. Bennett-Forman said more help is needed.

“The need is for 840 food packs, each costing $5,” she wrote in a letter to Herald. “We need to raise a total of $4,200, of which about 60 percent has been pledged. The rest needs to be raised by donations from — well, frankly, from folks like you.

“If you are able to contribute $70 to sponsor one child, $35 for a half sponsorship, or even $5 to buy one packet of food, it would help enormously.”

All donations to the summer lunch program should be sent only to the Kingston North Kitsap Rotary Foundation, P.O. Box 832, Kingston, WA 98346.

In addition to the free and reduced lunch program, students have benefited from ShareNet’s “Food To Grow On” program, making food available for weekends to ensure children eat nutritious meals when not at school.

“We know this is a need in the community, otherwise we wouldn't have even started the program,” ShareNet Director Mark Ince said.

Every Wednesday for two years, Ince and Susan Frank, Linda Hell, Kathy Melseth and Jerry Ulsund of the Food Bank have packaged and delivered weekend meal packs to Wolfle and Gordon elementaries, Kingston Middle School and Spectrum Community High School.

Other ways the community can help: ShareNet uses proceeds from its thrift store to help fund the food bank. Food banks also need fresh fruits and vegetables all year round, and accept donations from local gardens.

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