|-- Photo courtesy The Children's Lunchbox|
Bean’s Cafe started feeding the Mat-Su when its child feeding program,The Children’s Lunchbox, began serving meals here last December. Then things took off in April with a new kitchen in partnership with the Wasilla clubhouse of Boys & Girls Club - Alaska.
Now the Salvation Army hopes a similar partnership will result in a similar meal program for children in Palmer.
The Children’s Lunchbox operates under the umbrella of Bean’s Cafe, Anchorage’s long-established nonprofit that feeds adults. Founded in 1998, the Lunchbox program provides healthy meals for school-age children in a safe environment with a $500,000 annual budget. The program is expected to hand out about 200,000 meals this year in the form of breakfast, lunch and after-school meals, as well as weekend food delivered to students every Friday.
More than 100 of those meals are now going to children in the Valley, according to program director Lynette Ortolano. Several local organizations helped fund the Mat-Su expansion of The Children’s Lunchbox: Matanuska Electric Association; Bishop’s Attic II; and the Mat-Su Health Foundation.
The Children’s Lunchbox provides meals to Denali Family Services and the Sutton Library. Willow schools asked for a weekend food program, Ortolano said.
The Salvation Army in Palmer also hopes to start feeding students in partnership with The Children’s Lunchbox, said Mark Davey, who pastors at the Palmer center with his wife, Lisa.
Like many students around Alaska, some children in Palmer get their only healthy meals - breakfast and lunch - at school.
“There are some kids, once they’re done with school, they have no nutritional meal to eat for dinner,” Davey said.
Improving nutrition means increased productivity in school as well as decreased obesity - after all, a bag of chips is cheaper than a bag of apples, as Davey notes.
But there’s a challenge with the Salvation Army program, Ortolano said. The organization’s facility is too far from a school to qualify for reimbursement from the U.S. Department of Agriculture program that underpins partnerships with The Children’s Lunchbox. To get paid back for money spent, the Salvation Army and The Children’s Lunchbox will need to collect a stack of information - income data, among other things - before the Palmer program can qualify.
It’s not ideal, Ortolano said, but "we're willing to go that route” if necessary.
Ortolano, who lives in the Valley, said she knows there’s a need for help here. She points to estimates of 890 homeless teenagers with the Mat-Su Borough School District, “and that’s not the little kids at all. That combined with the school-lunch data ... there are a lot of families who are struggling to have access to decent food.”
-- Zaz Hollander