by: HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Volunteers from The Outpost and Sonrise Church hand out hundreds of free lunches at Shute Park in Hillsboro on June 17.Free breakfasts and lunches began to be served at 71 sites in Washington County this month.

“Washington County is a longtime champion of summer food programs,” said Lesley Nelson of Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon.

Food is offered through Forest Grove, Hillsboro, Beaverton and Tigard school districts; Boys & Girls Club of Portland Metro; Faith Café; Gales Creek Camp Foundation; and Oregon Child Development Coalition (OCDC Head Start).

For children ages 18 and younger, food is free. For those 19 and older, meals range from $2 to $3.

“They don’t need to be on SNAP or provide any ID,” said Nelson. “Most programs are Monday through Friday from noon to 1 p.m., but local sponsors choose the times.”

In Oregon, 53 percent of all children rely on free or reduced price breakfasts or lunches during the school year. But only 21 percent of those eat free meals during the summer, said Nelson, who wonders what happens to them.

“During the summer, where are they eating?” Nelson questioned.

Summer food programs are funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which is routed through the Oregon Department of Education to local distribution sites. Each meal costs an average of $3.52.

Numbers slumped in 2013, said Nelson, after the Oregon Legislature decentralized summer food services that had been offered through the Commission for Children and Families. Since then, school districts, nonprofits and church groups have attempted to pick up the slack.

In 2012, the last year with centralized support, 253,066 meals were served in Washington County. In 2013, the number served dropped to 241,704.

Two years ago, there were eight locations that served 20,087 meals through Tigard-Tualatin schools. In 2013, locations jumped to nine but the number of meals served dropped to 1,831.

For 2014, nine Tigard-Tualatin locations are already up and running and will continue through mid-August: Atfalati Park, Bonita Village Apartments on Southwest 76th Avenue, Bridgeport Elementary School, Community Park on Tualatin Road, Greenburg Oaks Apartments on Southwest 92st Avenue, Hazelbrook Middle School, James Templeton Elementary School, Metzger Elementary School, Tualatin Elementary School and at Tualatin High School.

Tight budgets

Nelson said some of the problems with serving school-age children during the summer include:

n Schools on tight budgets that close their buildings during the summer.

n Lack of transportation to food sites, such as school buses to pick up children at their regular stops. Some schools don’t have the budget to provide bus service during the summer.

“The Beaverton School District is our best success story,” said Nelson. “They have an amazing variety of food. They manage to make food beautiful. There’s a variety of hot and cold dishes, using three or four choices.”

Cornelius lost a major site in 2013 that had served 9,000 meals in 2012 — an OCDC site for Migrant Head Start. “It’s an area with a high migrant population and a high level of need,” said Nelson.

Last year’s lost meals and location in Cornelius were due to federal sequestration and the move of the OCDC headquarters, which went to a new building in Hillsboro. They’ve been open for three weeks, serving migrant families. They lost 136 funded enrollment spots last year, but now have them again.

“Happily, we’re back,” said LaRue Williams, director of the OCDC in Washington County.

Myrna Jensen of the Oregon Food Bank said that agency plans to expand its school-based food pantry program to Washington County, a move that would benefit families of limited means year-round.

Ford Motor Company recently announced it would provide milk, juice, oats and applesauce for hungry children in Oregon. Washington County will get a portion of the food, said Jensen, but the timeline for the allocation is unclear.

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