Families in Dillingham with at least one child enrolled in the school district are eligible to receive free meals for each of their children this summer. The deadline to register is May 28.
The program, called Meals-to-You, is a collaboration between Baylor University and the US Department of Agriculture. It started in 2019 as an effort to help increase food security in rural communities across the country.
Jeremy Everett is the executive director of the Baylor Collaborative on Hunger and Poverty based in Waco, Texas. As part of the National Commission on Hunger from 2014 to 2016, he traveled to communities across the country to speak with people dealing with hunger and food insecurity.
“And what we heard, and what we saw over and over again, was that what worked to address hunger in urban America or suburban America didn’t translate in rural America,” he said. .
Everett said rural areas didn’t have as many nonprofit organizations, health centers or grocery stores. And summer food programs were usually located in larger cities far from rural families.
“So the ways that the USDA had been intervening previously, particularly for kids, when they got out of school in the summer, just didn’t work,” he said.
The Baylor Collaborative worked with the USDA and food logistics company McLane Global to start Meals-to-You in 2019. That first summer they served about 500,000 meals to 20 school districts in East and West Texas. Everett said Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s office asked to expand it to Alaska in 2020. But when the pandemic hit and schools closed, the USDA didn’t have a rural food distribution program. So the USDA asked Baylor to make the program available to the entire country.
“So we ended up serving children in 43 states. Alaska was a part of that, as well as Puerto Rico,” he said. “We’ve been able to work in Alaska ever since, with the meal program for you and it’s been really amazing how they’re going to get Alaska, you know, the agencies say Community organizations, the food bank, have worked hard to ensure that children can receive these boxes of food when school ends.”
All rural school districts are eligible for the program. This year, Meals-to-You has partnered with 11 school districts in Alaska. Everett said the program is adaptable: Some tribal communities have opted for different types of protein, such as buffalo meat sticks or canned salmon instead of beef sticks.
“We’re so grateful that we’ve had, you know, vocal partners from the Alaskan community to help us know what’s appropriate and where it’s appropriate, and so that we can honor the traditions of the communities while also providing them with additional support. to provide food for their children,” she said. “Because we know that people unfortunately don’t get raises when kids get out of school. But often, they are affected by additional food costs.”
Meals-to-You will become a national program next summer. Everett said they hope to partner with local organizations to include fresh food options along with non-perishable foods.
Dillingham families who enroll through the school district will receive a box in the mail each week with five breakfasts, lunches and snacks for each of their children.
Those wishing to sign up can call Phil Hulett in Dillingham at 907-842-6711 or email [email protected] through May 28. School districts wishing to sign up can contact Meals-to-You.
Contact the author at [email protected] or 907-842-2200.