Redwood Empire Food Bank to offer free summer meals to Sonoma Valley kids
Redwood Empire Food Bank will be supplying free, healthy meals to children and teens at four Sonoma Valley locations this summer, providing an especially important boost to families that are struggling financially.
“The summer is always a time when families are seeking additional food assistance, since their children are out of school,” said Allison Goodwin, hunger relief worker and director of programs for Redwood Empire Food Bank.
Last year, Redwood Empire Food Bank’s summer meal program provided 29,100 meals at 20 locations in Sonoma County. The three sites in Sonoma Valley supplied 3,242 meals.
Goodwin said Redwood Empire experienced a 19% increase in requests for food assistance in Sonoma County from February to March, and the trend continued in April and May. The rise is partly due to the end of emergency food assistance programs available during the pandemic.
“We anticipate the need to increase (the summer meal program for children) this year, and have one additional site, at Sonoma Valley Regional Library,” Goodwin said.
In addition to the library, the lunches will be available at Flowery Elementary School, Maxwell Club at Boys & Girls Clubs of Sonoma Valley (BGCSV) and the Valley Vibes Youth Orchestra (ViVO) Camp Cultura music camp in Sonoma (see sidebar for more information).
Redwood Empire Food Bank receives permission from California Department of Social Services to operate summer lunch sites in Sonoma County.
“The state determines eligibility in low-income school district catchment areas, and we have to get an application approved by the state to provide the meals,” Goodwin said.
All children 18 years old and younger are eligible to receive the meals through the program, and no application process is involved.
“They can just show up and receive a meal,” Goodwin said.
Sites can provide breakfast and/or lunch, and children need to eat the meals on the premises.
During the school year, students from low-income families in Sonoma Valley Unified School District can receive free and low-cost meals, but when summer rolls around, only students in summer school receive them. This year, the school district is collaborating with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sonoma Valley to offer summer school at El Verano Elementary School and Maxwell Club on the BGCSV campus from June 20 to July 21.
BGCSV will supply summer meals at Maxwell Club — through the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sonoma Valley — and the school district will provide them at El Verano, as well as at Sonoma Valley High School to summer school students (from June 20 to July 18).
“Usually, summer school doesn’t last the entire summer, but does help families (with meals) from June until mid-July,” Goodwin said.
Dawn Mawhinney, the school district’s director of educational services, said the district greatly appreciates the food bank’s summer lunch program.
“We are truly thankful for their important role in providing nourishment to the community during the summer when school is out,” she said. “Their dedication to ensuring that no child goes hungry positively impacts the lives of students and families in Sonoma Valley.”
Cary Leigh Snowden, president and CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of Sonoma Valley, also praised the summer lunch program.
“Each year, we provide over 40,000 healthy meals to our members because we know how important proper nutrition is to both their physical health and their academic growth,” she said. “Our programs ensure the academic growth of our members continues over the summer, so we really value our partnership with the Redwood Empire Food Bank as they allow us to continue our meal service program when schools are closed.”
Klara Crean, executive director of ViVO Youth Orchestras, said the food bank’s free lunch program is a vital component of its summer music camp.
“We value our partnership with the Redwood Empire Food Bank, since about 95% of our students are from low-income settings,” she said. “Being able to provide a free, nutritious lunch as part of our program contributes to their overall well-being and to the quality of camp experience.
“This is our fifth year of partnering with Redwood Empire Food Bank on the summer lunch program and we truly appreciate the collaboration rooted in providing students with wrap around services to change their lives through music.”
The Redwood Empire Food Bank has offered its summer lunch program since 2004. The program basically has remained the same over the years, but during the COVID-19 pandemic, the State of California allowed meal waivers that enabled families to pick up meals for a few days or even a whole week at one time. Children did not have to be present when the meals were picked up and meals did not have to be eaten on site.
“This allowed more access to families who would otherwise have a hard time attending a site daily due to parent work schedules, transportation or other barriers,” Goodwin said.
The Redwood Empire Food Bank attempts to ensure that at-risk children have a healthy start in life by filling the meal gap. Its Our Every Child, Every Day Initiative includes four programs designed to help end childhood hunger and fuel growing bodies and active minds.
Addressing the nutritional needs of children of all ages and targeting seasonal meal gaps, Redwood Empire Food Bank provides local families with fresh produce, nourishing groceries and healthy meals that their children need to grow up healthy and strong, and to stay engaged in school activities.
“We welcome people to give us time, money and food to help our work and the Sonoma Valley community,” Goodwin said.
Reach the reporter, Dan Johnson, at firstname.lastname@example.org.