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Feeding Flagstaff’s Hungry Children

It’s heartbreaking that a child in our community can go to sleep at night, or in some cases, several nights, without a nutritious meal. As leaders, we need to do everything we can to make sure our children get the food they need to grow up healthy and strong.

I’m proud that we have an active community dedicated to providing resources to children in need. At-risk children have access to breakfast and lunch every day during school.

What happens to these children during the hot summer months when there is no school? In Flagstaff alone, there are more than 3,500 children living in poverty and the issue magnifies in the more rural areas of the county.

According to a 2016 poll of parents, less than 30 percent of school year participants took part during the summer months. Seventy percent of kids that were getting meals in the winter weren’t in the summer. More than 60 percent of parents said that it was harder to feed their kids during the summer.

Parents cited lack of transportation, poor food quality and lack of knowledge of site locations as why children did not have access to the food they needed in the summer.

I’m proud that the summer of 2017 was much different.

Thanks to the leadership of St. Mary’s Food Bank, and the efforts of community partners such as the Family Food Center, Coconino County Public Health Services District, Flagstaff Unified and others came together to help solve this problem. Out of this effort, the Hunger Free Alliance of Flagstaff was created. This group made up of government agencies, non-profits and the private sector came together to tackle childhood food insecurity in the area.

The first thing this group set out to do was to increase Summer Food Service Program participation.

The Hunger Free Alliance of Flagstaff added seven new summer food sites and expanded services to the annual Summer Food Service Programs. They also created a new branding campaign for these sites called the “Summer Café” along with developing a new marketing campaign which included Kick-off events, city-wide banner placement, A-frames at sites, participation in local events like “Juneteenth” and “Fiesta de Mayo” and used giveaways and other incentives to keep kids coming back.

The results of the program were tremendously successful. The seven new sites saw average 1,350 meals per day. Sites in Doney Park (Cromer Elementary), Kachina Village (Highland Fire Department) and La Plaza Vieja (Guadalupe Park) were added to help alleviate transportation barriers.

In total, the rebranding of the program and the additional focus on getting kids to the summer sites increased participation by 23 percent and an additional 304 meals were distributed every day.

The work is far from over. There are still challenges and opportunities to solving food insecurity throughout Northern Arizona. However, the tremendous success and increased participation of the Summer Café program are bright spots that our community partners can be proud of.

Let’s hope that the momentum can continue going forward into the summer of 2018 and every year after because if even one child goes without food, it’s one child too many. FBN

By Cynthia Seelhammer

Cynthia Seelhammer is the Coconino County manager.

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