The Henderson County Department of Public Health is the newest public feeding site to address issues of food insecurity for youth during the summer.
Students who regularly receive meals through school lose this access during the summer. In response, Henderson County Public Schools' Child Nutrition Department established four public feeding sites over the county that provide free lunches for youth between two and 18 years old. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Summer Food Service Program funds the summer sites.
The school department collaborated with the Henderson County Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, also known as the WIC Program, to set up the site.
Amy McCall is the Women, Infants and Children Nutritionist with the Henderson County Department of Public Health. She said this partnership is a helpful way to link nutrition and health services.
"[Families] have access to the public transportation right in front of the building," said McCall. "They have lunch for the kids, and then access to all the other services in the building."
The WIC Program helps women and children access nutritious food and information on healthy eating. McCall said the issue with the program is it only provides services for children up to age five. This new partnership will extend food access to a wider group of children during the summer.
"[This week], we had a mom pull up and she was dropping somebody off for immunizations," said McCall. "She had a small child in the car with her, and the child got out and got a meal. They were just riding through and the child was able to get a meal here."
Amanda Jones is the Henderson County Public Schools' Child Nutrition Supervisor. She said over 51% of students in the county participate in the free and reduced lunch program. Many families in the county who experience food insecurity are also experiencing rural poverty, said Jones.
"Poverty is oftentimes hidden," said Jones. "When we look at food insecurity generally, it does coincide with socioeconomics."
Jones recalled a time she met a mother at a feeding site last summer. The mother shared with Jones that her son hadn't eaten since the previous night, because the family didn't have any food in the house and could not afford to purchase any. This was the only resource for her to access for food for her children, said Jones.
"We assume that situation only happens in [different] countries," said Jones. "It happens here."
Jones' hope for the site is to serve 25 to 30 students per day this summer, but overall both she and McCall want to strengthen relationships in the community.
"Our [goal] is not just to be about food and food insecurity," said Jones. "It's about developing relationships, being the consistent person [in these families' lives]."
"We're all a village, we're all a team," said McCall. She sees the collaboration as serving the whole household and individual rather than pinpointing just food access.
"Not only do they need food, they need immunizations, they need access to SNAP benefits," said McCall. "It's just not that one thing."
Jones said she wants to expand the site's capability in the future and hopes to increase service from two days to five days in the next few years.
The Henderson County Department of Public Health site is open from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays through August 15.