Summer food programs for kids a key link in some tornado-hit areas

Trotwood schools are doing extra publicity to draw students to their existing summer school and summer food programs, as they and other local schools scramble to provide resources to families in need after last week’s tornadoes.

The free Summer Food Service Programs are available at dozens of sites in Trotwood, Dayton, Riverside, Moraine and a few other areas, but they are based on community income, so wealthier tornado-hit areas like Brookville and Beavercreek don’t have that option.

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“We know there are over 363 students here in Trotwood-Madison City School District who are displaced,” superintendent Tyrone Olverson said. “We want to make sure everyone has information about our summer programs.”

In Trotwood, the Summer Rise program at Madison Park Elementary goes well beyond providing food — offering an 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. program four days a week through July 3 with busing provided from community hubs, according to curriculum coordinator Kiara Williams. The program provides academic help, physical activity, breakfast and lunch, plus social worker and mental health counselor services on-site.

The district said they are now accepting all kindergarten through fifth-grade Trotwood students for that program, whether they signed up in advance or not. Parents or guardians are encouraged to bring their children to Madison Park on Tuesday or Wednesday morning to register.

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“We had close to 100 staff members on site today, some who were hired for the program and others who just decided to step in and help with all of the need,” Williams said.

But the more basic Summer Food Service Programs are designed mainly to help low-income communities that rely heavily on free and reduced-price lunches during the school year. Participation is open to children through age 18, as well as disabled students up through age 21. Approved sponsors front the cost, then get reimbursed by the federal government.

Dayton Public Schools lists more than 30 SFSP sites in their geography, run at parks, churches, apartment complexes, community centers and more. About half offer both breakfast and lunch each weekday, while the others offer just lunch, or lunch and a small afternoon snack. Many agencies pair the lunch program with some type of activity or camp.

A full list of SFSP sites is available on the Ohio Department of Education web site. The Northridge schools area, straddling I-75 in Harrison Twp., has only one site listed. ODE officials said nonprofit agencies seeking to sponsor a summer food program have until June 15 to apply.

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Families hoping to participate should closely check program dates. All 14 SFSP programs in the Trotwood area began this week. In Dayton, only a handful started this week (Edison, Ponitz, Fairview, Ruskin, Westwood), while others start next Monday, or June 17. Lunch times also vary from site to site.

In Brookville, with no federally supported food programs, Superintendent Tim Hopkins said The Ridge Church has helped with food need in the past, and is already a Red Cross shelter this time. Beavercreek Superintendent Paul Otten said churches in his community are also helping tornado-affected families with food need.

“Just as learning does not end when school lets out, neither does a child’s need for good nutrition end,” an Ohio Department of Education statement said. “The Summer Food Service Program provides free, nutritious meals and snacks to help children in low-income areas get the nutrition they need to learn, play and grow throughout the summer months.”

That’s an issue every summer, but last week’s tornadoes, which uprooted so many lives in already low-income areas, make this summer a special challenge.

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“Seeing the devastation and damage — as a kid who grew up out here … in a neighborhood that was affected — that was humbling and eye-opening and sorrowful,” said Trotwood-Madison schools Director of Operations Marlon Howard. “But you can’t stop and think about it too much because we’re in a situation where we’ve got to help people out.”

Howard said the district currently has enough capacity to serve all of its summer food sites, which he said have been a success in past years. But he said a big question will be how the tornadoes affect need over a long period.

“If we see that we need more staff or more food, we’ll make sure that happens,” Howard said. “Once this initial wave of support goes away, what happens next?”

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