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'It's not just a hunger issue:' School District fights child hunger with summer programming

Students and community members helped paint Skoolie, South Washington County Community Education's "mobile classroom," last summer in Cottage Grove, Newport and Woodbury. Maureen McMullen / RiverTown Multimedia

SOUTH WASHINGTON COUNTY — In an effort to eliminate student hunger, South Washington County Schools and Second Harvest Heartland have partnered to launch several programs under the No Kid Hungry initiative.

A No Kid Hungry kick-off event June 11 will begin a summer of events focused on free meals and activities.

In South Washington County, one in five children is at risk of hunger, said Cheryl Jogger, District 833 Community engagement coordinator and SoWashCo CARES founder.

Studies have shown that kids who eat breakfast have better attendance and an easier time concentrating.

"It's not just a hunger issue," Jogger said. "It really does affect how kids learn."

Second Harvest's Michelle Heerey said after a study to learn more about the prevalence of child hunger in their service area, they found there are more kids missing meals in the suburbs than in Minneapolis and St. Paul schools.

The organization reached out to school districts in first-ring suburbs with a higher rate of kids missing meals and found an easy partnership with District 833.

"I've never seen a set of school district administrators, staff and concerned citizens so eager to tackle a really tough issue," Heery said.

The district and Second Harvest are launching a pilot program that Second Harvest will use to learn more about suburban child hunger, and in turn use those lessons in other schools across its service area.

"If anybody can solve child hunger, it's South Washington County Schools," Jogger said.

Summer programming in south Washington County will include a mix of activities, free meals and events.

Every Monday through Thursday, the Skoolie bus will bring food, activities, games and events to kids. It will arrive Mondays in Woodbury, Tuesdays in Newport, Wednesdays in St. Paul Park and Thursdays in Cottage Grove.

The district is also offering free breakfast and lunch every weekday from June 12 to Aug. 24.

Meals will be served at Park High School and Newport Elementary School from 8 to 9:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Though not a new offering, the district is redoubling its efforts to spread the news about the meals. Many students in the district rely on school meals each day, so the summer programs can help them keep up on nutrition over the summer months.

The event June 11 is designed as a family-fun event, but also something of a resource fair, Jogger said, for area families to learn what services are available.

There will also be games, activities, free ice cream and produce distribution.

"The hunger issue isn't a resource problem, more of an access issue," Jogger said. "We just need to coordinate our efforts and make it happen."

Jogger said she hopes putting the spotlight on child hunger will help disparate organizations come together to coordinate efforts not only on hunger, but also for some community programming.

If you go:

What: Kick-off event

When: 5-7 p.m. June 11

Where: Park High School, 8040 80th St.