Missoula Food Bank Expands Efforts to End Childhood Hunger

Starting Monday, October 12th, 370 local kids will have more nutritious food in their lives every single school day.

As part of Missoula Food Bank’s ongoing efforts to address the growing issue of childhood hunger in our community, our food local bank is launching Kids Table Afterschool.  This weekday nutrition program will provide healthy, hearty afterschool snacks to hundreds of local children at eleven sites across Missoula.

These five-component “super snacks” will be distributed by community partners which already manage successful, universal (zero-fee) youth programs, many at the highest-need schools in Missoula.  The program will be at eight Flagship sites, including Hawthorne, Franklin and Lowell elementary schools, Washington and CS Porter middle schools, and Willard, Hellgate and Big Sky high schools.  Other program partners include Missoula Parks and Recreation at CM Russell Elementary, the Booster Club at DeSmet School, and Missoula Public Library’s afterschool programs and clubs.

EmPowerPack_3This program comes on the heels of a 2014-2015 academic year assessment through which the food bank partnered with Missoula County Public Schools to gain further insights to the reaches of childhood hunger within the City.  18% of responding parents reported experiencing food insecurity in their home within the last twelve months. 85% of those families reported missing bill payments to pay for food.  76% of food insecure homes reported that their children did not eat as healthy as they would like, and 62% reported frequently skipping meals or eating smaller meals than they felt they needed because there was not enough food in the house.  Yet, only 35% of families who had skipped meals had used the resources of Missoula Food Bank.

“We are working collaboratively to better understand barriers to food security that families experience,” says Jessica Allred, the food bank’s director of development and advocacy. “It is important to the health of our community that every child has the opportunity to succeed, and being nourished is a vital piece of that.  Right now, one in five children in our community lives in poverty.  One in three of Missoula Food Bank’s clients is under 18.  The food bank is grateful to be partnering to meet families where they are at and address this woefully widespread and growing issue of childhood hunger alongside incredible partners.”

empowerpack_boxesKids Table Afterschool adds to Missoula’s growing infrastructure of universal youth programs and nonprofit partnerships, a positive thing, says Susan Hay Patrick, CEO of United Way of Missoula County.  “When programs are universally available to all kids, regardless of family income, everybody benefits. Low-income and vulnerable families may benefit more — but programs like this are great equalizers because nobody is singled out; there’s no stigma for participating. It makes it easier for the folks who most need help to step up and receive it,” notes Patrick.  “Because there’s no shame in wanting the best for your kids and family, regardless of where you fall on the economic scale.”  United Way of Missoula County manages Imagination Library, a universal program that delivers books to the homes of Missoula children ages 0-5 regardless of income.  United Way also grant funds the Flagship Program and provides donor designate dollars to Missoula Food Bank.

Kids Table Afterschool is largely self-sustaining through the Federal CACFP program, which offers a per-meal reimbursement to the food bank at sites that meet area income eligibility.  Of the eleven sites, seven qualify for reimbursement.  Snacks, therefore, will meet federal nutrition standards, and will include healthy, fresh foods like grapes and carrots, yogurt, whole grains, and hummus among other diverse menu options.  Kids Table Afterschool will increase children’s daily intake of nutrient-rich food.  Like programs nation-wide have shown positive health and academic outcomes.

EmPowerPack_2The food bank will fundraise to support the four non-qualifying sites.

Though an incredible opportunity with far reaching impacts, the launch of this endeavor has stretched the capacity of Missoula Food Bank in new ways.  “We need to recruit new volunteers, a lot of them,” says Aaron Brock, the food bank’s executive director.  “We have been fortunate to have had a wait list of willing community members for years.  With Kids Table Afterschool, we have asked everyone on that wait list, and are in need of numerous more volunteers to help package food and deliver it to programs daily.”  There is current need both for individual volunteers and for groups to support this and other programs at the food bank.

Kids Table Afterschool will deliver 70,000 afterschool snacks throughout the 2015-2016 academic year.  More information about the program and volunteering can be found at the Missoula Food Bank’s website.