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Bridging the Great Health Divide: Child food insecurity

Published: Jun. 30, 2021 at 4:11 PM EDT
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MID OHIO VALLEY (WTAP) -

" A lot of kids won’t get a meal when school gets out so I think it’s nice. The girls really appreciate it,” Lia Shankland, Reno resident said.

Shankland is one of roughly 160 people who regularly comes to Phillips elementary school in Marietta to pick up free meals. Marietta city schools have AVI food systems supply these free meals to students throughout the summer.

Free food is one thing but heather Warner, director of Gopacks, takes it a step further.

“We always make sure we have whole grains, vegetables, proteins, in all of our offerings. We also watch the sodium content so we aren’t putting in the soups that are pure salt. No questionable meat sticks, we even avoid artificial sweeteners,” Warner said.

Gopacks is a nonprofit based in Marietta that strives to not only provide healthy meals to kids but help their caretakers build valuable skills so that they can one day leave the program.

“Every family is different. Some people might need some more education or job skills. Other families need support in health. They just need physical health support whether they are struggling with diabetes so there’s all these different things. "

Warner says she and her team started Gopacks after the greater Marietta food pantry said there was a great need for more food assistance programs for children. They now help roughly 130 students and 75 families in the Marietta city schools system get access to fresh local food.

“We’re giving our families who enroll specifically for this program 10 dollars every week in June to go and purchase any fresh and healthy food they want at the farmers market. So it’s their choice whether it’s dairy meat or vegetables.”

Across the river in Parkersburg, many kids are from food-insecure homes as well.

“Over 52% of our students qualify for a benefit. So we are looking at 52 percent of our students who do qualify for snap benefits, TANF or Medicaid,” Hollie Best, Child Nutrition Director for Wood County Schools said. Best says they follow FDA guidelines when it comes to making sure kids get healthy meals.

“During the school year we are under a cep, community eligibility provision. All of our students are able to eat breakfast and lunch at no charge during the school year. And also during the summer feeding program that is also at no charge to students.”

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