Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Program provides daily meals for hundreds of local children

Each year, more and more children in Athens County and across Ohio benefit from the free and reduced lunch programs at the public schools. During the summer months, though, many families do not have enough money to pay for all of the meals for their children, so summer feeding programs spring up across the region. One of the largest programs of this kind in Athens County is run by the Nelsonville Community Center.

The center, which is staffed completely by volunteers, is led by Rhonda Bentley. She explained that every Monday through Friday in the summer, community center volunteers served breakfast and lunch to children at the park next to the city pool. Breakfast was served from 9-10 a.m., and it usually drew around 100 children. Lunch was served from 1-2 p.m., and often drew around 300. I n a city of around 5,000 people, it is stunning to have that many children showing up for free lunches every day.

“It’s amazing to me, too,” Rhonda said. Many of the children are at the city pool on the hot summer days, and then they walk to the park for the free lunches. Their families may be able to find the money to get the children in the pool, but without this program many of the children would not have had money for lunch, Rhonda said.

Many of the children also come to the park just for the lunches. Some show up early and wait, and some pick up their lunches and take them home or to wherever they are playing that day. On rainy days when people are not swimming, the Nelsonville Community Center still passes out more than 160 free lunches.

Hocking-Athens-Perry Community Action provides the food for the breakfast and lunch programs. The meals are all very basic, with lunches made up of items such as peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, turkey and cheese sandwiches, apples, raisins, celery and peanut butter. The breakfast meals include items such as cereal, fruit, milk and bagels.

The Nelsonville Community Center also offers after-school programs, clubs for children to join, and other activities. The center is a safe and warm place where children of all ages can gather after school and in the summer.

The center also offers programming for adults, a free community lunch on Fridays, free clothing and other items, and furniture sold for very low prices. The center accepts donated furniture, and then sells the furniture items in order to help pay the utility bills for the building. There are no income limits on purchasing the furniture.

“We’d like everyone to come in. We need to sell as much furniture as possible in order to pay the bills,” Rhonda said.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Federal leaders respond to Dateline NBC report by cutting food assistance benefits to the poor

President Obama and Congress are slashing food assistance benefits for our poorest citizens.
After Dateline NBC aired a special report on poverty in America recently, many people were waiting to see what the response would be from our country’s leaders.

The national news program showed people standing in lines for food, explained how people at the Friends and Neighbors Community Choice Food Center in Lottridge were sending messages on paper plates to The White House asking for help, and told the stories of several families who, just like families all across America, are struggling to meet their basic needs of food and shelter. The response from Congress and The White House was clear and it was shocking, as they chose to cut food benefits for the poor at a time when it is clear that food stamps are not meeting the needs of our country’s families.

“This is shameless,” said Jack Frech, Athens County Job and Family Services director. “This is how our leaders are answering these pleas for help, by taking food away from poor families who already do not have enough food to make it through the month. If the President and Congress feel there is somehow ‘extra’ money in the food stamp program, they need to expand benefits and eligibility rules so that families do not have to depend on food pantries to feed their children.”

The U.S. Senate has already approved a bill to cut food benefits to the poor, and the U.S House of Representatives will soon be voting on this bill as well. Advocates for the poor all across the country are speaking out against this bill, and Athens County Job and Family Services also strongly opposes it. Below are links to additional articles about the proposed legislation.