The Kids Café free summer lunch program has been feeding, on average, between 60 and 100 kids per day since it started in mid-June.
Last week, Congresswoman Suzan DelBene stopped by the Sultan site to see how it was going.
The Kids Café free summer lunch program is made possible through a collaborative partnership between Food Lifeline and Volunteers of America (VOA), and has been operating in the Sky Valley for three years. Lunch is served at Sultan Elementary School Monday through Friday, from 12:30 to 1 p.m., and from 1 to 1:30 p.m. there are activities such as crafts or reading. Kids can also choose to spend the time playing and interacting with each other.
At Gold Bar Elementary School the meals are served from 11:30 a.m. to 12 p.m., with 12 to 12:30 p.m. designated for activities.
For DelBene, who stopped by on Wednesday, Aug. 6, it was an opportunity to get an overall sense of how the program was doing, as well as to learn about any challenges that the program has faced throughout the summer. She jumped in and went straight to work, often pausing to chat with the kids as she helped pass out the lunches.
The Kids Café served 69 kids on Wednesday during Delbene’s visit. They offered free lunchboxes as well as a large selection of brand new books from which kids could choose, also free of charge.
The food is sourced, packaged and distributed by Food Lifeline, at which point it is turned over to the VOA. The food is then transported to the two Sky Valley Kids Café sites by VOA staff on a daily basis.
“We try and provide as much healthy food as we possibly can, so they’re getting fruits, vegetables and protein; all that good stuff that they need,” said Food Lifeline Director of Public Policy Gina Clark.
Clark explained that while the funding to support programs like Kids Café comes from a variety of sources including corporate sponsorships and private donors, it primarily comes from federal grants.
“The federal government is very generous with programs like this,” said Clark. “We’re trying to grow that, which is why we’re having some of the representatives out here.”
Clark stated that additional funding could help alleviate some of the program’s challenges and provide families with additional support by offering things like transportation services. Transportation services would be particularly beneficial to the Sky Valley region; Sultan School District Superintendent Dan Chaplik confirmed that transportation is one of the area’s biggest struggles. While some families may have access to a vehicle or live within walking distance, those options simply aren’t available to everyone.
“Getting here is a challenge,” Chaplik explained to DelBene. “There are a lot of kids that are probably going without meals.”
In addition to learning more about the state of food insecurity in the Sky Valley, DelBene also listened to a plea for immigration reform from Sultan resident Amanda Galicia and her two children, 10-year-old Alec and 4-year-old Eli. Amanda’s husband, Miguel Galicia, lives in Mexico and is currently not able to reside in the United States due to difficulties with his immigration status.
Due to these difficulties, Miguel is bound to Mexico for a 10-year period of time during which he is disallowed from traveling to the United States for any reason. Seven years remain in the prohibition.
While Amanda tries to take her children to Mexico to visit their father as often as she can, traveling is difficult for the young family and very expensive. They are unable to live in Mexico permanently for medical reasons; her son Alec was born with a severe cleft lip and palate, which has required seven surgeries so far, and will require more as the boy gets older.
“They said when he gets older he might have a hard time breathing,” said Amanda.
Additionally, living conditions in Mexico exacerbate Amanda’s own health issues.
Alec earnestly addressed the congresswoman, and presented her with a hand-made card that he had crafted with his younger brother.
Sylvia Howe, the boys’ grandmother, hopes that the situation can be resolved so that her daughter’s family can be together without having to wait seven more years. She is supportive of her son-in-law.
“He’s a good family man and he’s a good worker,” said Howe.
DelBene was touched by the handmade card, and impressed by Alec’s emphatic delivery as he presented his story.
“It’s really heartbreaking,” said DelBene. “The stories of these families that have been broken up.”
DelBene spent over an hour in Sultan chatting with staff from Food Lifeline and the VOA as well as Kids Café program recipients and volunteers. Sultan City Councilmember Sarah Davenport-Smith, VOA Regional Vice President Bob Reese and Sultan City Administrator Ken Walker were also in attendance.
DelBene stated that food insecurity among children can have long-term negative impacts, particularly when it comes to education.
“It’s hard to pay attention in school if you’re not getting enough to eat,” said DelBene.
She also pointed out that once kids fall behind, it can be extremely challenging for them to get caught up. Assimilating new material can become troublesome and complicated if a student is focused on learning things that they missed.
DelBene commended both Food Lifeline and the VOA for their efforts and stated that she strongly supports programs dedicated to alleviating food insecurity. She hopes to be able to help pass legislation that would facilitate an increase in the current level of support.
“We’ll work hard to try and do more,” said DelBene. “These are great investments that we get a great return on.”
VOA Program Manager Jennifer Reasoner shared that the VOA was extremely grateful to the congresswoman for taking the time to come to Sultan and visit the lunch program.
“It was great to see her hand the lunches out to the kids and chat with them a little as well,” said Reasoner. “It was such a pleasure to meet her!”
Sultan City Administrator Ken Walker added that DelBene has truly been an asset to the Sky Valley area.
“Congresswoman DelBene has been a true friend to Sultan,” said Walker. “She makes sure that she visits us on a regular basis. She comes out and listens to what our concerns are and her staff is very responsive and helpful.”
The Kids Café program will run through August 29 and the VOA is seeking additional volunteer support. For information on how to get involved, please contact Jennifer Reasoner or Calei Vaughn at 360-793-2400. For additional information on Food Lifeline, to obtain assistance, or to make a donation to support programs like Kids Café, please visit: https://foodlifeline.org/. Families in need of assistance can also text “MEALS” to 96859 and receive site information sent directly to their phone.
In addition to operating Kids Café, the VOA also operates a food bank in Sultan which currently serves approximately 400 families per month from Sultan all the way up to Skykomish. They also offer a mobile food bank service which assists approximately 22 families in the town of Index. Contact the VOA for additional information.