Let’s be honest: who among us can count on pleasant behavior once we haven’t eaten in awhile? We can all relate to feeling hangry, thus the immediately relatability of the term (a portmanteau if you’re wondering). But food insecurity is no light matter. In fact, nearly 1 in 8 individuals within Boulder County are struggling with hunger, not always having enough money to buy food. Of food stamp recipients within Colorado, more than 3 in 4 include children.
School meal programs go a long way to help children meet nutritional needs. In the summer months, when school is not in session, there are many children left without lunch. Fortunately, there is momentum across the state to support this lack in providing healthy lunches. In Longmont, the CHAMPS (Cities Combating Hunger through Afterschool and Summer Meal Programs) initiative has made a significant impact since 2015, and continues to grow and thrive as it expands programming in exciting ways.
Longmont’s CHAMPS is a Summer Meals Program for Longmont and surrounding areas. Throughout the nine-week summer period, lunches are served Monday through Thursday at no cost to families. Lunches are served by St. Vrain Valley School District as the sponsor for the USDA Meal program. In the first year of the program, meals served to adults were provided at cost to the community. Over the two years following, the cost of adult meals was covered, thanks to a $100,000 grant from Kaiser Permanente. Each of those summers, over 9,000 meals were served. Looking ahead to summer 2018, the program projects serving more than 11,000 meals at nine different sites, targeting the areas where free and reduced lunches are the highest.
CHAMPS Summer Meal program aims to increase fruit and vegetable consumption, improve access to healthy foods, and strengthen the nutritional value of foods available. The program continues to grow in exciting ways since its launch, owing to the generous grant from Kaiser Permanente and also to numerous meaningful partnerships, including Longmont Community Services Department: Children, Youth, and Families (CYF); the Longmont Public Library; Longmont Recreation Services; and Community Food Share, as well as numerous other caring, committed local organizations that participate in associated activities.
With the support of such partnerships, the summer meal program often serves as a gateway to a wealth of enrichment opportunities and resources. Children, Youth and Families is responsible for the overall coordination of the after-school and summer meal program, and works with St. Vrain Valley School District to plan the dates and approximate meals served at each strategically selected site. CYF further interfaces with all project collaborators. Longmont Public Library, which plans and offers summer reading programs, maintains a traveling “book cycle” stocked with materials and supplies at the various sites. Recreation Services offers summer recreation activities in the parks. Community Food Share, Boulder County’s food bank, has generously offered to support the CHAMPS program with supplemental food–a full cart of groceries to families every other week via a mobile pantry at two of the sites.
Food insecurity is a serious issue. But thanks to the support of generous grants and community partnerships, steps are being taken to combat this daunting problem. The CHAMPS summer meals program not only addresses hunger, it provides educational and recreational opportunities aimed at nourishing whole families on many levels. The impact is profound. “I get aggravated when I’m hungry, like a troll under a bridge” says Longmont Youth Center participant Javier. “But this way everybody can just have a good meal and last until the end of the day.”