In mid-June, the Children’s Hunger Alliance, a statewide non-profit organization “dedicated to ending childhood hunger in Ohio,” held presentations in Columbus and Piketon, focusing on southeastern Ohio’s food-insecure children and unveiling new maps created to identify the location of food gaps in the area.

“The non-profit unveiled initial maps created by Muskingum Valley ESC with support from Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs as part of a child nutrition asset mapping project led by Children’s Hunger Alliance and funded by the Walmart Foundation,” according to Erica Sevilla, director of communications for the Children’s Hunger Alliance. “The mapping project, which will be completed by the end of the summer, will encompass more than 1,000 sites, and include data about more than 56,000 students from 36 school districts, as well as pre-school age populations across the project’s six-county target area — Jackson, Pike, Vinton, Ross, Scioto, and Lawrence counties.

According to Sevilla, the goal of the project is to “identify where gaps occur in connecting food-insecure children with the healthy meals they need to grow and thrive, and potential partners who can help fill those gaps.”

Debra Parmer, senior vice president of strategy, compliance, and government affairs for Children’s Hunger Alliance, said that she and others are “eager to collaborate with community partners” in an effort to provide healthy meals that many children lack.

“Before we can address hunger, we need to understand where gaps exist and create a sustainable action plan that improves access to nutritious meals for children who need it most,” said Parmer.

During the presentation in Piketon, Muskingum Valley ESC exhibited Vinton County maps displaying the following: “high need areas with current and potential summer and afterschool meal sites” as well as “their proximity to at-risk children.”

“The six-county asset maps, scheduled for completion this summer, will enable Children’s Hunger Alliance and community partners to address childhood hunger in a strategic manner, through partnerships with local school districts and community organizations such as recreation centers, libraries, and churches,” said Sevilla.

In order to provide free meals to children through the age of 18, Children’s Hunger Alliance will use the maps “to work together with community partners” in an effort to “leverage the USDA’s child nutrition programs, administered by the Ohio Department of Education”, to “offset the costs of providing food to at-risk youth and create long-term solutions to childhood hunger.”

RSVP of the Ohio Valley and TLC Ministries were both awarded Children’s Hunger Alliance grants during the luncheon. RSVP was awarded a $2,000 grant “to support summer meals for children in Jackson, Gallia, Pike and Scioto counties through 20 sites.” TLC Ministries was awarded a $5,000 grant to “purchase a new convection oven and warming cabinets so they can prepare hot meals for the 750 kids they will serve each day this summer.”

In 2016, TLC Ministries provided free 20,600 meals to children in Jackson, Gallia, and Vinton Counties.

“We are grateful to Children’s Hunger Alliance for caring about hungry kids and helping TLC Ministries provide meals to children who so desperately need them,” said Terry Witt, director of TLC Ministries. “We are excited to be able to purchase a convection oven and warming cabinet, making it possible to provide so many hot meals at one time. Thank you again for recognizing the work we do and supporting us in such a valuable way.”

According to the Children’s Hunger Alliance, only 10 percent of children who receive free or reduced lunches during the school year have access to meals in the summer months.

“That number may be even higher in rural counties where more than 25 percent of children live in food-insecure households and may not have the transportation necessary to connect them to summer meal programs,” said Sevilla. “This year, Children’s Hunger Alliance awarded $60,000 in grants funded by the Walmart Foundation to help partners expand summer meal access or begin serving summer meals to food-insecure children.”

Email at sstanley@newswatchman.com; follow on Twitter @StephRStanley.

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