Three Square food bank to feed at-risk kids over summer

More than half of all Clark County School District students are on free or reduced lunch programs. Many rely on school for at least two meals a day, many for three.

Nonprofit food bank Three Square is working with the district, the Nevada Department of Education and the Culinary Training Academy , 710 W. Lake Mead Blvd., to try to provide meals to every kid in need while they’re out of school.

With the district’s elimination of year-round schedules, about 65,000 additional kids will be out of school this summer, making it more difficult to get food to kids in every corner of the Las Vegas Valley .

Three Square’s president and CEO, Brian Burton, said the food bank has been preparing for this situation for two years. The problem, he said, isn’t having enough food to provide, it’s getting it to the kids.

“The biggest hurdle for us is communication,” Burton said. “It’s an underutilized program. We’d love to see maximum participation.”

Last summer Three Square served more than 50,000 meals, or between 800 and 1,000 meals a day, Monday through Friday. This year it expects to serve about 2,400 meals a day. It could produce about 10,000 meals a day at current staff levels, if necessary.

Three Square, 4190 N. Pecos Road, recruits distribution sites that have to be approved by the Nevada Department of Education as part of the Summer Food Service Program. It can be a laborious process, but the department approved more sites earlier than ever before, Burton said.

Three Square had 13 sites last summer, and it expects to double that number.

“We feel like they’re stepping up to help get the information out there earlier,” Burton said. “There just isn’t a large department dedicated to outreach and awareness. It’s awareness that is the biggest hurdle.”

Three Square targets areas with high poverty, unemployment and schools with the highest number of students on free and reduced lunch programs. It serves about 230 schools in the district with the BackPack for Kids and Kids Café programs.

About 40 percent of the food bank’s distribution — about 100,000 meals a month — goes to children.

“When you think about kids in the school year,” Burton said, “impoverished kids, they at least have the assurance they’re getting the free or reduced lunch every day. All of the sudden summer hits. Whereas people like you and me in middle-class families looked forward to summer, these kids have fear of where their next meal is coming from.

“Hungry kids in the summer is unacceptable,” he said.

To help with food preparation, packaging and distribution, Three Square relies on hundreds of volunteers.

Dave Bartlett, 71, spends two or three days a week in the kitchen, boxing food and loading it into containers.

He began volunteering about two years ago because he “thought it was time to get back into the community service aspect.”

“I was quite impressed with the organization of Three Square,” Bartlett said. “I like helping children and people who aren’t quite as fortunate, especially when it comes to food and hunger.

“Kids are more or less at the mercy of their parents or guardians, and if they drop the ball, then the kids go hungry. I want to make sure I play my part in getting food to the children.”

Three Square also is expanding its menu this year. Berries, cherry tomatoes, yogurt parfaits, ham and turkey wraps, rice bowls and homemade zucchini banana bread are some of the new offerings. It will continue to serve staples such as cheese pizza and sub sandwiches and all grain products are whole wheat.

“We’re not just putting food out to fill kids up,” Burton said. “We’re putting nutritious food out to make healthy bodies.”

The Culinary Training Academy also will be providing free meals at several valley locations to those under 18.

For more information, call the Culinary Training Academy at 924-2100.

For more information about Three Square or to find a distribution site near you, call 644-3663, visit threesquare.org or text “SFSP” and your ZIP code to 539-9008 .

Contact View education reporter Jeff Mosier at jmosier@viewnews.com or 224-5524.

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