Summer brings rise in demand for food assistance, decline in donations

By MIKE AVERILL World Staff Writer

As a mother of two school-age children, Jessica Knox knows the crunch that the summer months can put on a family’s food budget.

“My sister is sitting at home right now out of food stamps and I feel bad, but there is only so much I can do for myself,” said Knox, who helps out her sister, mother and grandmother when she can.

She also needs help feeding her children at times.

“It costs more to feed your kids in the summer, and the food doesn’t seem to last as long,” Knox said.

The average family spends $316 more a month on groceries during the summer, according to the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma.

“For a lot of families, there’s not $316 that they can grab to meet that increase,” said Eileen Bradshaw, food bank executive director. “It’s not about cutting cable and going to the movies less. There’s just not that money in the household. We feel that it’s really critical that we help them meet that increased need.”

This is also the time of year when donations to the food bank plummet. The agency averages a nearly 50 percent decline in donations during the summer months.

“It’s sort of this critical mass that occurs every summer,” Bradshaw said. “The kids are out of school, the utilities are higher, our partner programs report an increase of families in need of assistance and our direct programming sees increased requests.”

Programs are in place to combat summer hunger, but Oklahomans tend to not take advantage of them.

The state ranks 51st in participation in federal summer feeding, behind all states and the District of Columbia.

Transportation and awareness are among the key factors in the decline in summer feeding at federally sponsored sites, Bradshaw said.

The food bank partners with Tulsa Public Schools to provide a number of Summer Café locations designed for families of children who normally receive free and reduced lunch and breakfast through school.

There are more than 70 summer feeding sites throughout the Tulsa area targeting the more than 40,000 kids who qualify for the free and reduced lunch program, and about 6,000 kids participate.

“That’s a really dramatic dropoff,” Bradshaw said. “It’s our goal to make sure those meals are made up. Our worry is that some of them are missed.”

The food bank also offers its Free Family Farmers Markets to students and their families at early childhood development centers throughout the area and also operates its Mobile Eatery, which provides ready-to-eat meals to high-poverty areas.

The food bank also provides food to 450 partner programs in 24 counties.

“We’re hearing from our partner programs that when school is dismissed, families that they haven’t seen in a while are presenting themselves because they’re making it but providing the extra food in the summer is tipping them over the edge,” Bradshaw said.

Broken Arrow Neighbors provides a food pantry as well as additional summer food programs including its Supplements of Summer, where families with children who qualify for the free and reduced lunch program can choose additional kid-friendly items from the food pantry, and Meals of the Month, where families receive all the components for a full meal in addition to their food pantry items.

“We always see an increase in the summer. Typically those are individuals with children who are no longer in school receiving free and reduced lunches,” said Kim Goddard, the agency’s executive director. “They are feeling the extra financial burden during the summer months.”

Mike Averill 918-581-8489