Nevada food bank kicks off summer meals program for kids

Community initiatives complement each other in fight against hunger

By: - June 21, 2022 5:52 am

Assistance being distributed last week on the first day of the Food Bank of Northern Nevada’s Kids Cafe summer meal program. (Photo courtesy Food Bank or Northern Nevada).

Despite supply chain issues and having emptier shelves, the Food Bank of Northern Nevada has launched its Kids Cafe summer program which aims to make sure no child goes hungry.

The meals service, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Nevada Department of Agriculture, has a daily goal of giving away free food packs to 1,000 kids across 34 locations in Reno and Sparks. The distribution areas also include Fernley and Schurz. 

The program, which launched June 13, is designed to make nutritious food available for kids from ages 2 to 18 for the summer until they return to school. Each meal is a cold lunch pack that meets USDA nutritional requirements, consisting of fruits, greens, dairy and protein.

The Kids Cafe program has been operational for almost 20 years. In earlier years, the USDA required meals to be eaten on site. But the Food Bank was granted a waiver with the Nevada Department of Agriculture that allows the kids to carry their food along with them.

Food Bank of Northern Nevada hopes to ensure that children, who are reliant upon school meals, do not miss a meal while they are on summer break, according to Ararmelle Wheeler, marketing and communications coordinator. 

“When prices are going up, it becomes more difficult for families to add more meals per child to their grocery budget than they were already providing during the school year,” Wheeler said.

Without access to such meal services, parents often come up with solutions like “skipping meals” to make sure that their kids are able to get what they need, she said. 

Wheeler, who has worked with the Food Bank for nearly a decade, admits that the agency is often faced with challenges while tackling an increased need for food assistance from the families. 

“We have found ourselves needing to go out to source and purchase more products than we sometimes have historically needed to,” Wheeler shared. 

In addition to a shortage of food donations and supplies, the Food Bank has had to contend with rising gas prices that are in turn raising delivery costs. But Wheeler said  they are striving to not let these factors act as a deterrent in serving the community. 

“We have a great team who work very hard with manufacturers, growers, and retail distribution centers and build relationships with them to help the Food Bank receive donations,” Wheeler said.

This enables them to purchase items at lower costs and ensure that they are bringing in food supplies that the community needs, she said. 

“It’s important to us to make sure that our neighbors who are in need of food assistance, are not burdened with the worry of what happens when there is not enough (food),” 

Wheeler said, “Therefore, we work really hard to ensure that we’re still meeting the needs (of the people), regardless of the obstacles we have to overcome to make that happen.”

Operating for nearly four decades, the Food Bank serves 115,000 families every month. The nonprofit is a member of the nationwide Feeding America initiative that partners along with 150 local organizations to handle food crises in the region. It covers a 90,000-square-mile area which includes 13 counties of Northern Nevada and parts of several counties in Northern California that are on the eastern side of the Sierras. 

The organization offers various other programs that help with food support for families, veterans and senior members. The office and warehouse primarily serves Monday through Friday but has partnered with food agencies and pantries which distribute food assistance on weeknights and weekends. 

“We are thankful to have volunteers and people in the community who rally around our neighbors to ensure that they have access to healthy nutritious meals they require at all times regardless of what their situation might be,” Wheeler shared. 

The Food Bank of Northern Nevada is not the only effort to provide food assistance in the Reno area. 

Claire Holden, a farmer and assistant manager at the Desert Farming Initiative (DFI) at the University of Nevada, Reno, has been running a 24/7 community fridge and pantry program known as Biggest Little Free Pantry modeled on “take what you need, leave what you can” for over a year now. 

The Biggest Little Free Pantry has three locations around Reno and Sparks, with the site at 1135 Wilkinson Avenue in  Reno being the latest one to be renovated by Holden. 

The recently renovated community pantry and fridge serving free perishable and non-perishable food items at 1135 Wilkinson Avenue in Reno. (Photo courtesy Claire Holden)

“I saw a need for better access to food in the community,” said Holden, who decided to use grant funding to rebuild some of these existing pantries over the summer. 

Holden feels that some food assistance organizations have limitations and rules that are imposed on people while allowing them to take the food. They also believe that they have a model that allows for anytime access without fear or stigma. “It allows for total equity across the board.” they added. 

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Kingkini Sengupta
Kingkini Sengupta

Kingkini Sengupta writes for the Current as a Summer 2022 States Newsroom Fellow. She is currently pursuing her master’s degree with the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno. A former broadcast producer, she has a newfound love of reporting and writing. She has a Diploma in Social Communications Media from SCMSophia, University of Mumbai, India and has also done her Bachelor's in English Honours from University of Calcutta, India. She has also worked for six and half years with two Indian news channels: New Delhi Television (NDTV) and Republic TV. Kingkini loves traveling, experimenting with new recipes in the kitchen and playing with dogs. She uses food to bond with people she does not know. Someday besides being a successful multimedia journalist, she would love to open her own Indian restaurant and chai cafe in the United States.