Before the pandemic, families could rely on schools to feed their children at least two meals a day, a tremendous help to those facing food insecurity. But when the Blaine school district closed all schools on March 16, some families worried about putting food on the table. School district staff began delivering daily meals to families in need two days after the closure, said Lisa Moeller, a public relations specialist for the district.
“We are proud of, and incredibly grateful for, our staff members who rose up and served our community during this difficult time by working tirelessly to feed the many children who are reliant on school meals,” Moeller said in an email.
However, when the last day of school arrived on June 19, the district was unable to continue the daily meal program due to a lack of staff on contract, Moeller said. The district’s Family Service Center is still providing weekend meals through the summer, either by delivery or pick-up, with donations from local food banks and Wildbird Charity.
Wildbird executive director Phill Esau encourages community members to donate, volunteer or just spread the word about food insecurity.
“People need to be aware that there are people in their own backyard, children, who are hungry,” Esau said.
Feeding America, the largest hunger-relief organization in the U.S., recently published projections of how food insecurity could increase in 2020 due to Covid-19.
According to the organization, 16.4 percent of children in Whatcom County were food insecure in 2018. Feeding America projects this number could jump to 26.3 percent this year as more families struggle to find or maintain employment.
The Boys and Girls Clubs of Whatcom County, which works closely with the school district, also began distributing meals to youth throughout Blaine and the rest of the county. The organization’s CEO, Heather Powell, believes that as a community-based organization with available resources, it is necessary to respond to the needs of the community.
“That’s why we decided to get started with a meal distribution program and why we will continue to do it,” Powell said.
Each Boys and Girls Clubhouse in the county usually provides daily meals to children in need during the summer. The Boys and Girls Club summer camp, where children entering 2nd-6th grade can recieve free breakfast and lunch, is available for registration at whatcomclubs.org. But due to Covid-19 restrictions, the club can’t open its doors to additional children who are not involved in summer activities. Instead, the Boys and Girls Club is offering weekend meal bags, available for pickup at the Blaine Clubhouse at 635 8th Street in Blaine. Children do not need to be present for families to receive a meal bag.
The clubhouse began distributing food in late May and the clubhouse feeds between 25 and 65 people each week, Powell said. Since the program started, it has served 19,600 meals across Whatcom County, Powell said, anticipating an increase in this number as fewer agencies distribute meals during the summer.
“We believe that kids need to be fed and they need to be fed well,” Powell said. “Access to food, for families, is a challenge. It became more challenging for a number of reasons during the pandemic.”
Weekend meal bags can be picked up on Fridays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Family Service Center and at the Blaine Boys and Girls Clubhouse at 5 p.m.