Summer program served 55,000 meals to children

By Ryan Ottney

September 26, 2013

Ryan Scott Ottney

PDT Staff Writer

Mark and Virgie Hunter of Portsmouth were in Columbus on Monday to meet with Ohio Gov. John Kasich, to discuss the Innovative Summer Meals program they helped to organize in Scioto County through the Stephen A. Hunter Hope Fund.

The Hunters started the Hope Fund in 2006, after their son Stephen passed away unexpectedly. The program was initially only offered to students at Stephen’s alma-mater, Portsmouth High School, to assist needy students with test fees, field trip costs, clothes, or anything else the students needed. In 2009 the Hope Fund began its Powerpack Program, sending home a pack of food for underprivileged children to have on the weekend when they weren’t at school. Today the Powerpack Program has expanded to help more than 500 kids at nine schools in Scioto County.

According to statistics, nearly 1 in 6 children suffer from food insecurity in the United States. In Ohio, it’s 1 in 4 children suffering from food insecurity, and in Scioto County it’s even lower at 1 in 3. According to Kasich, 75 percent of teachers say they regularly teach children who are coming to school hungry, and 88 percent say hunger causes concentration issues.

“My kids have enough trouble with algebra on a full stomach. Think about a kid going into school, trying to learn algebra, and they don’t have any food,” Kasich reportedly said in an article published in a Cleveland newspaper.

This summer, the Stephen A. Hunter Hope Fund facilitated Innovate Summer Meals sites with Bloom-Vernon Local Schools, Minford Local Schools, and Valley Local Schools.

“We were approached by FreeStore FoodBank to answer an RFP (Request for Proposal) from the Governor’s Office of Faith Based and Community Initiatives to set up and operate a 10-week summer program designed to reach hungry children in rural areas. This proposed program is a pilot that was to reach children who are not able to participate in the traditional Summer Meals Program. Federal guidelines mandate that the children under that program must come to the sites and consume their lunch at the site. In rural areas of Scioto County, this is simply not possible for some families,” Mark Hunter said.

Since these rural students can’t come to the program, the Stephen A. Hunter Hope Fund brought the program to them.

The Bloom-Vernon distribution was set up at Pinkerman South Webster Community Church, by Sandy Smith and Maria Swick, with many volunteers. The Minford distribution was at Minford Elementary School, by Dennis Evans, and operated with volunteers from Minford Schools. The Valley distribution was set up half way through the program at Jefferson Township Volunteer Fire Department in Clarktown, and was headed by Jeff Rase with volunteers from Valley Schools and the Volunteer Fire Department.

“Working through the schools to identify eligible families, sites were set up that would distribute boxes of food containing 11 meals per child per week. Accordingly the families only had to come to the site once per week instead of every day. Also we delivered boxes and produce to families who were unable to come to the distribution sites. We targeted areas of the county that are not fully served by the traditional Summer Meals program,” Hunter said.

Throughout the summer, at these sites, the program served more than 55,000 meals to 689 children. According to Hunter, theirs distributed 29 percent of all the meals served in their six-county region.

Hunter called it an excellent way to highlight September as Hunger Action Awareness month.

“We want to raise awareness of the problem of hunger in the State of Ohio and in Scioto County and urge everybody to support their local food pantry or organization that helps combat hunger in our community,” he said.

For more information about the Steven A. Hunter Hope Fund, visit them online at www.stevenshopefund.org, or on Facebook.

Ryan Scott Ottney may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 287, or rottney@civitasmedia.com. For breaking news, follow Ryan on Twitter @PDTwriter.