Farmers markets bring produce to summer food programs

The program resulted from an executive order with Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s office to provide a greater variety of food to families using the summer programs. While the hot lunches served at the programs are for the children only, the produce can be taken home by the families, said Maurice Maxwell, the executive director of Family Service of Middletown. That agency administers the Cosby program, which gives meals to children on the free and reduced lunch program.

The percentage of Middletown City Schools students receiving free- or reduced-price lunches has continued to rise in the last decade. It went from 41 percent a decade ago to 76 percent this year, up 2 percent from 2012.

“Gov. Kasich’s office set aside $500,000 for the purchase of produce from Ohio farmers,” Maxwell said. There are nine sites at the Cosby program, which each serves an average of 50 children per site.

Family Service of Middletown served 16,000 cases last year, equalling about 78,000 individuals. That number has been holding steady for the past year and a half, Maxwell said.

Moreover, the parents or guardians are worried most about the children and often can’t or won’t provide for themselves. The farmers market produce helps alleviate that — and provides healthy food as well.

Family Service received a delivery of 1,900 pounds of produce on Monday. The produce includes cabbages, cucumbers, bananas, oranges and watermelons, Maxwell said.

“We put a big emphasis on healthy eating, and produce is the cornerstone of that,” he said.

The produce offerings grew out of a program the governor’s office initiated last year that provided additional meals to children that attended the lunch programs, said Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, the executive director of the Ohio Association of Food Banks.

“It was such an overwhelming success, but the (summer programs) only provide meals to the children, and we wanted to make sure we could get healthy, wholesome fruits and vegetables into the household meals for the families as well,” she said. She estimated 820,o0o children statewide depend on the lunch programs.

The summer food program is sponsored by the USDA. The farmer’s market’s mobile meal program money comes from funds for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, she added.

Budget cuts forced Family Service to reduce the number of lunch sites. Last year there were 17 sites, but this year there are nine.

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