Dillingham families can sign up for new summer meal program through May 28
Families in Dillingham with at least one child enrolled in the school district are eligible for free meals for each of their kids this summer. The deadline to sign up is May 28.
The program, called Meals-to-You, is a collaboration between Baylor University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It started in 2019 as an effort to help increase food security in rural communities across the country.
Jeremy Everett is the executive director of the Baylor Collaborative on Hunger and Poverty based in Waco, Texas. As part of the National Commission on Hunger from 2014 - 2016, he traveled to communities across the country to talk to people dealing with hunger and food insecurity.
“And what we heard, and what we saw over and over again was that what worked to address hunger in urban America, or suburban America didn’t translate to rural America,” he said.
Everett said rural areas didn’t have as many nonprofits, healthcare facilities or grocery stores. And summer food programs were usually located in bigger towns far from rural families.
“So the ways in which USDA had previously been intervening, particularly for children, when they got out of school in the summer, it just didn't work,” he said.
The Baylor Collaborative worked with the USDA and the food logistics company McLane Global to start Meals-to-You in 2019. That first summer they served about 500,000 meals to 20 school districts in east and west Texas. Everett said Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s office asked to expand it to Alaska in 2020. But when the pandemic hit and schools shut down, the USDA didn’t have a rural food distribution program. So the USDA asked Baylor to make the program available to the entire country.
“So we ended up serving children in 43 states. Alaska was a part of that, plus Puerto Rico," he said. "We've been able to work in Alaska since then, with the meals to you program and, and it's really been incredible the way that they'll that the Alaskan, you know, state that community state agencies, the the food bank, have all stepped up to ensure that kids are able to receive these boxes of food when school's out.”
All rural school districts are eligible for the program. This year, Meals-to-You has partnered with 11 school districts in Alaska. Everett said the program is adaptable — some tribal communities have opted for different kinds of protein, like buffalo meat sticks or canned salmon instead of beef sticks.
“We are very grateful that we've had very, you know, vocal partners from the Alaskan community to help us know what's appropriate, and where is it appropriate, and so that we can honor the traditions of communities while also providing them additional support to provide food for their kids," he said. "Because we know that unfortunately, people don't get raises when kids get out of school. But oftentimes, they're hit with extra food costs.”
Meals-to-You will become a national program next summer. Everett said they hope to partner with local organizations to include fresh food options along with the shelf-stable meals.
Dillingham families who sign up through the school district will receive one box in the mail each week with five breakfasts, lunches and snacks for each of their kids.
People who want to sign up can call Phil Hulett in Dillingham at 907-842-6711 or email firstname.lastname@example.org through May 28. School districts who want to sign up can contact Meals-to-You.
Get in touch with the author at email@example.com or 907-842-2200.