The numbers tell the story. During the 2001 school year, 18,250 students in Sonoma County qualified for the federal low-cost food program at school. Ten years later, that was up to 30,600 students.
That increase occurred even as the county was experiencing an overall 7 percent decline in its student population.
Meanwhile, the problem each June is that hunger and poverty don't take the summer off.
Thankfully, organizations such as the Redwood Empire Food Bank and others have stepped in to provide meals when schools are closed. As Staff Writer Kerry Benefield reported on Saturday, the Food Bank is working with the Santa Rosa City Schools, Healdsburg City Schools, the Boys & Girls Club and other groups to provide hot lunches to children at locations throughout the county. (For a list of locations, go to the Food Bank web site at www.refb.org)
The program has grown steadily over the years from 15,000 meals provided during the summer of 2004 to the 110,000 that are expected to be given out this summer. Still, officials say that only about 10 percent of the students who qualify for the school-year lunch program take advantage of free lunches during the summer.
More work is needed in getting the word out, but the North Coast can be thankful that so many are teaming up to meet this need — no questions asked.
That's the hopeful news. Here's the heartless part.
Even as these organizations are confronting the disparity that exists between those families still trying to recover from the Great Recession and those for whom the recession is a distant memory, Congress could be on the verge of making the situation worse.
The House has been debating a Farm Bill that potentially could include deep cuts in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, otherwise known as food stamps. One version of the bill would have included more than $20 billion in cuts in food stamps over the course of a decade, effectively removing 1.8 million Americans from the program. The bill, the first major overhaul to the food stamps program in 17 years, also would have cut more than 200,000 low-income children out of the free school meal program.
Fortunately, that version of the $500 billion Farm Bill failed last week in a surprising 195-234 vote in the Republican-controlled House. But it still leaves a pitched battle ahead on Capitol Hill. The Senate version includes cuts of about $400 million a year to food stamps.