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05.21.08

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Vital Vacation Vittles

By P. Joseph Potocki


Apples, milk and chicken. Yucky-fun insect stuff. Soccer. Puppies and their trainers. Stuffed birds, Hula-Hoops, gooey arts, awesome crafts, freebie books. Kids can enjoy all this and oodles more by simply showing up for lunch at one of 33 Sonoma County sites hosting Redwood Empire Food Bank's Summer Lunch Initiative.

As our national economy continues its depthless dive, doubtless determined to sleep down there with the fishes, an ever-mounting strain is placed on public services, particularly for those most affected by program cuts. And that would be kids, little ones with mouths to feed and bodies to grow.

For the last five years, the Redwood Empire Food Bank has organized hundreds of volunteers serving tens of thousands of hot meals to hungry kids throughout Sonoma County. Their Every Child, Every Day program is designed to fill summer's three-month respite when students who'd enjoy free or reduced-price lunches during the school year fall into a dark nutritional sinkhole.

According to REFB executive director David Goodman, summer means "nearly 20,000 kids are left without." Goodman adds how everything worsens for low-income families in belt-tightening times like this. The food bank's lunch program is one small remedy addressing the needs of the many. "Our summer lunch program," Goodman says, "is increasingly important to the well-being of the children and the community."

Jill Barron is REFB's community programs coordinator. A Sonoma County native who returned home after completing her degree in community studies at UC Santa Cruz, Barron stresses the county's need for the five-year-old program, noting that it's grown from serving 40,000 meals in 2006 to over 53,000 last year. She's enthusiastic about the work she does. "I've always had an interest in nonprofits," she says. "I worked for the YMCA and really enjoyed going to work each day." Barron leads a team of five REFB staffers coordinating the efforts of over 150 volunteers at sites in Santa Rosa, Healdsburg, Rohnert Park-Cotati, around the Russian River and in Petaluma.

The Redwood Empire Food Bank's Summer Lunch Project runs from Monday, June 9, through mid-August at 33 different sites. For volunteer information or to learn where to go to eat, call Jill Barron at 707.523.7900, ext. 34.


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