District scrambles to save summer school lunches in Granite Falls

GRANITE FALLS — Carl Cary’s on a mission to save school lunches this summer.

He has three weeks to do it.

In the Granite Falls School District, where Cary serves on the board of directors, the summer school lunch program fell victim to federal Census data, which the government uses to determine which areas are eligible to receive funding.

That was surprising to Cary, who compared the finding to reports about how well the economy has recovered while most people weren’t seeing it.

“I could certainly introduce you to a lot of people who are struggling right now,” Cary said. “It’s unfortunate.”

Linda Hall, superintendent of the Granite Falls School District, explained that the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which reimburses school districts for summer lunch programs, said the government looks for concentrated population areas, not districts as a whole, to determine which communities qualify.

“We don’t have big low-income housing development,” Hall said.

The Granite Falls School district has about 2,000 students, 45 percent of whom qualify for free or reduced lunches, Hall said.

The summer lunch program last year averaged 55 kids a day but on some days served as many as 120, she said.

The decision forced the school board to cancel the program, but Cary decided to lead an attempt to save summer lunches outside of the federal reimbursement program.

Marci Volmer, an area director for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Snohomish County, said that the Granite Falls club typically would send dozens of kids over to the school for lunch during the summer.

“In most of our communities, the school district hosts a summer lunch program, and Boys and Girls Clubs are a partner of that,” Volmer said.

“Generally our demographic is weighed fairly heavily on kids who qualify for free or reduced lunch during the school year,” Volmer said.

Under the non-profit umbrella of the Granite Falls Community Coalition, Cary, who is also the board’s community liaison, is trying to raise enough money to keep the program running this year before the first lunches of the summer are to be served June 16.

A fundraising site has been set up, raising a few hundred dollars so far. Food drives are under way at local stores, and the food bank is taking donations. But most important, Cary has been talking to people in the community.

Some of that outreach has paid off. Holy Cross Catholic Church, which is affiliated with the food bank in Granite Falls, has pledged $5,000 to support summer school lunches.

That gets them almost halfway to their goal of $12,000, which is the minimum needed to buy enough food and hire one person to serve it five days a week, Cary said.

“We don’t want it to be a sandwich and chips and a pop,” Cary said. “We want it to be a hot lunch and nutritious.”

Even if he doesn’t reach that monetary goal, a lunch program will still run, but it might not be for five days a week, he said.

The multi-purpose room at Granite Falls Middle School is already reserved for the lunch program for five days a week through Aug. 29.

All kids are welcome, and because federal reimbursements aren’t involved, the program won’t turn anyone away who needs a hot lunch, Cary said.

“If we pull this off, as far as service to the kids in the area, there would be no difference in service,” Cary said.

Chris Winters: 425-374-4165; cwinters@heraldnet.com.

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