Radford City Schools started their second year of the Summer Feeding Program at the beginning of June. The first year of the program was a success, and the need for it has risen this year as the percent of students qualifying for free and reduced lunch increases said Superintendent Robert Graham.
- June 12-29, Mon.-Thurs.
- McHarg, Belle Heth -Breakfast 8:30-9:30 a.m., Lunch 11-12:30 p.m.
- DIS/RHS – Breakfast 7:30 a.m., Lunch 10:30 a.m.
- July 5-August 3, Mon.-Thurs.,
- McHarg – Lunch 11-12:30 p.m.
- Bell Heth – Breakfast 8:30-9:30 a.m., Lunch 11-12:30 p.m.
- DIS/RIS – Breakfast 8:15-9:15 p.m., Lunch 11-12:15 p.m.
- July 5-July 27, Mon.-Thurs.
- Riverbend – Feed and read bus 10:45-11:30 a.m.
- Fairfax Village – Feed and read bus 12-12:45 p.m.
During the school year students are able to receive free and reduced meals, but the summer months can be hard on those who don’t know where their next meal is going to come from. This year, the Summer Feeding Program has stepped up to feed even more people in need by partnering with programs such as the Bobcats Backpacks Program. Volunteers of the Bobcats program meet at the Presbyterian Church of Radford during the school year to bag meals for more than 100 students. The meals include breakfast, lunches, dinners, and snacks.
“Our guidance counselors and principals said to us, ‘this is necessary, we have hungry kids,’” said Jenny Riffe, co-founder of the Bobcats program.
Riffe founded the program in 2016 along with Jane Fisher and Daniela Brunner.
Riffe said there are some difficulties that the Bobcats program has noticed in terms of starting this partnership. She also noted that it is hard to predict how many people will turn out at each meal to eat and the BBP has lost a lot of Radford University volunteers now that school is out for the summer.
In order to prepare for each feeding, the volunteers pack a large number of bags and make sure that there is plenty of food stocked. Since all of the food is nonperishable, anything that is not taken or used gets put into the next week’s meals. This helps to save on costs and keeps the team well prepped.
A variety of people who live in the area come out each week to help with the program now that there is a shortage of volunteers. One school board member, Lynn Burris, has started coming out in recent weeks to stuff the bags for the summer feeding program.
“I love just packing these bags, this is just so efficient,” said Burris. “[The program] is just so great, it keeps these kids having food, especially in the summer. It’s a good program all the time, but in the summer it’s better.”
Programs such as this one help a variety of students by providing nutritious meals, which school officials note is especially important during the summertime. It is in these partnerships that the program has been able to expand this year and find more funding.
One of the struggles of keeping a program such as this one is finding the money to afford it, said Graham. The Summer Feeding Program is funded through the Virginia Department of Agriculture, but there are still many areas that can deduct money from the program. One of which is paying for the students who are given alternative meals and accrue charges during the school year. However, Graham said that this year the program was lucky enough to have an anonymous donor from the City of Radford that paid off most of those charges. This along with a grant from the Community Foundation of the New River Valley has helped to keep the program thriving this year and feeding more people.
Rife stressed that the program isn’t simply for those under 18. Volunteers encourage people to bring their whole families to the meals because adults are able to have breakfast for only $2 and lunch for $3.
“We hope that a lot of people catch the word about it,” said Riffe. “Because I think a lot of people don’t realize that anybody can go to the Summer Feeding Program. It doesn’t have to be low income, all families are welcome to come. We hope that families come and take advantage of it so that the program can get renewed next year. If families don’t come, the grant might not get funded in the future.”
By creating the program to welcome the community as a whole, the program has grown its reach and been able to implement even more features Last year was a great success in feeding the community, but this year, the summer programs are doing even more than helping the hungry.
Starting in July the Feed and Read program will begin where meals will be delivered to the Fairfax Village apartments and the Riverbend apartments. This feature of the program will allow people to get the bagged meals right from the van in their neighborhoods. Implementing educational tools such as books and fun activities in bags for those receiving the bags helps to support students and families in various ways.
This past month, the Summer Feeding Program received a donation of 50 books from Gloria Boyd, who runs the Facebook page “That Book Lady.” In addition, Barbra Tait from the Radford Public Library helped the program by donating 110 books. The books range from various subjects and grade-levels all the way from K-12. Each bag has a book placed in them for the student based on their grade-level in order to encourage summer reading.
Another addition to the program this year is the Food Literacy Bus, which was possible due to a donation from Radford University. This bus goes to neighborhoods and feeds the community while different volunteer teachers read to them. This is something Superintendent Robert Graham says that he wants to see grow in order to reach not just two subsidized housing divisions, but the entire city.
For those who struggle with transportation, the program has also included buses to the various meal sites, which will grow the program by making it more accessible. These buses are something that Graham says he hopes the program will be able to keep, but they are only possible due to generous donations.
One of the setbacks of the Summer Feeding Program, however, is that there are not alternate meal options for those with certain food allergies or religious dietary restrictions. While this is available during the school year, the summer program does not have the resources at the moment to provide these options. However, with the program growing exponentially with the involvement outside resources and volunteers between just the first and second year, the program might be able to add different types of meals.
However, the program is working in the community to provide meals and more for residents, which volunteers hope will have a long-term impact.
“We know how hungry the kids are, especially in the summer,” said Riffe. “They’re outside, they’re playing, and without have that little extra from school, it gets to be really expensive. We want people to go out and have a great summer, and come back ready to learn in the Fall. Long story short, we just don’t want children to be hungry.”