HANOVER, Ill. — For two years, a group of volunteers worked with a food bank to serve meals to children in Hanover during the summer.
After a shift in sponsorship, the volunteers weren’t able to keep the program going in 2019. They and area school staff would love to see it come back, though.
“There’s an awful lot of support for those kinds of programs through churches, through different people in the community because they’re such small communities that they tend to hear stories about people that don’t have enough,” said Laura Kuzniar, elementary counselor for the River Ridge school district in Hanover.
Jo Daviess County is among 35 Illinois counties that in 2019 did not host any summer meal sites through the Summer Food Service Program. The initiative is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and administered by states. Officials in Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin are seeking sponsors interested in offering summer meals this year.
The availability of summer food sites varies among area communities. However, school and agency leaders still try to make sure students who need food get connected with resources.
“I think it’s definitely on our radar,” Kuzniar said. “We’re looking for kids that are food insecure ... to provide them with the types of resources they do need.”
Jo Daviess County appears to be the only county in the Telegraph Herald coverage area that did not have a USDA-funded summer food program in 2019, based on data kept by officials in Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin.
Aaron Mercier, superintendent for Regional Office of Education 8 in Illinois, said a variety of factors determine whether a food site is offered.
Some areas don’t meet eligibility guidelines to participate. Potential sponsors — which can be school districts, nonprofits or other agencies — have to show that at least 50% of children in areas they would serve are eligible based on their incomes.
Sherry Kaiser, food service director for the East Dubuque school district, said it used to offer summer meals, but not many students participated. That is likely because many students do not live close to their schools, so finding transportation was difficult, she said.
However, staff let families know about meal sites offered in Dubuque and local food pantry services.
Jeanne Ohms, pastor of Hanover United Presbyterian Church, worked with volunteers to serve food at the meal site sponsored by River Bend Foodbank. When River Bend stopped serving as a site sponsor, however, volunteers weren’t able to logistically make the program work.
“I just wish we could get it going again,” Ohms said.
River Bend Foodbank President and CEO Mike Miller wrote in a statement that his agency stopped serving as a sponsor for summer meal sites because they worked with just a few locations. However, they still remain a vendor to provide food to site sponsors.
Kuzniar said district staff would be supportive if a sponsor offered summer meals again. School staff also point families in need to resources such as local food pantries, and teachers who run into students over the summer check in to see if they need anything.
“I think that we’re doing better as far as understanding what the need is,” she said. “I think that there probably still is room to grow in providing those kinds of services.”
In other parts of the tri-state area, summer food service sites are more common.
Boys & Girls Club of Greater Dubuque hosted more than a dozen summer sites last year, Executive Director Brian Meyer said. However, staff are always interested in finding new potential sponsors.
“Kids are out and about at parks (in the summer) ... and parents (are) working and probably not around for a lot of the children, so it just makes sense that there are other options for them as it relates to food service,” Meyer said.
The Western Dubuque Community School District has offered a summer meal site at James Kennedy Public Library in Dyersville and provides food to students in St. Mark Youth Enrichment programming in town.
District officials worked with a USDA consultant to find a census tract where enough students were eligible to host the program, said Clif Cameron, the district’s director of food and nutrition services.
The Dyersville library site has been a popular location, serving 100 to 150 students each day.
“The main aspect of my job is feeding children,” Cameron said. “It’s supporting their health, so they can learn during the school year. It only seemed fitting to move into the summer with that same plan.”