By Todd Cohen
[Note: This was written for Triangle Community Foundation. I am working with the Foundation as senior communications adviser.]
PITTSBORO, N.C. — Over 4,000 students in the Chatham County Schools, or half the student population, are eligible for federally-funded free or reduced lunches.
To make sure those children get nutritious meals during the summer, a coalition of partner agencies, funders and volunteers led by the Chatham Outreach Alliance in Pittsboro provides five breakfasts and five lunches a week for 10 weeks for over 1,000 children.
“Our program is designed to replace the meals they would have gotten were they in school during the summer,” says Beth Budd, executive director of Chatham Outreach Alliance, or CORA.
Like CORA, the Raleigh-based Inter-Faith Food Shuttle provides food during the summer for some of the 116,000 children in the seven counties it serves who are eligible for free and reduced lunches at school.
Five days a week, for example, its program that trains unemployed and underemployed adults for culinary jobs prepares 75 lunches for children at the East Durham Children’s Initiative, and another 40 lunches for girls at Full Circles Foundation in Raleigh.
The Food Shuttle also will be delivering meals once a week with its mobile food truck for up to 200 children at the Chavis Park Community Center in Raleigh in partnership with Dancing in the Park, an exercise and entertainment event organized by Southeast Raleigh Assembly.
And it delivers meals twice a week to roughly 100 children in the Parrish Manor neighborhood, a manufactured home community in Garner.
To provide those summer feeding programs, often involving complicated logistics, CORA and the Food Shuttle count on private funding, partnerships with multiple agencies, and a corps of volunteers.
Chatham Outreach Alliance
CORA, which launched the summer food program on a pilot basis in 2009, when it served 120 kids, works with over 200 volunteers and aims to raise $140,000 to support the program this year, although it recently learned that large statewide foundation had declined its application for a $20,000 grant.
With only Budd and a pantry coordinator, both working 35 hours a week, plus a 20-hour-a-week summer coordinator, the summer program costs $156 per child, although CORA typically has only $120 to $135 to spend per child, depending on how much it can raise, thus limiting the number of children it can serve.
To get food into the hands of kids who need it in a county with just over 700 square miles, CORA partners with 16 churches and other organizations that act as distribution sites.
Another partner, Chatham Trades, a nonprofit in Siler City that hires and trains adults with developmental disabilities, receives the food, packages it into weekly boxes, and delivers it to the distribution sites.
“Transportation is a problem for a lot of families,” Budd says. “We try to get the food as close to the families as we can.”
Formed in 1989 by a coalition of pastors from local churches that provided their own pantries but saw a need for a more centralized way to address demand for food assistance in the county, CORA will have served a week’s worth of food for over 17,000 people, or about 200 tons of food, in the fiscal year that ends June 30.
Inter-Faith Food Shuttle
Each summer, the Food Shuttle identifies communities that are home to a lot of kids who need food, and it partners with agencies that provide activities for children and that work with volunteers who can help serve the food it provides, says Terri Hutter, vice president for food service and culinary training at the Food Shuttle.
Food Shuttle staff, including graduates of its culinary job training program, for example, prepare food in its kitchen, and then the agency delivers the food for children attending summer camp at the East Durham Children’s Initiative, where volunteers and staff members serve the food and provide other activities.
In addition to its summer food programs for children, the Food Shuttle also buys or receives donations of fresh produce and loads it into its fleet of 13 refrigerated trucks, which deliver food to over 40 locations a month throughout the year the seven counties it serves.
“We roll into a neighborhood and set up a market, in partnership with local group, where people can shop for free for a few hours,” says Cindy Sink, director of communications at the Food Shuttle.
The agency also hopes over the summer to increase the number of locations it serves with its mobile food truck — known at the agency as the “mobile tastiness machine” — and through delivering prepared foods.
“We certainly need every organization that can be feeding children to join in,” Hutter says.