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Food, child care services being set up for youth this summer

Photo by Janelle Paterson Becca Johnson sanitizes toys at the Boys and Girls Club of Washington County in preparation of reopening the childcare center Wednesday.

At the start of closures due to coronavirus, local nonprofit boards were among the first to look at summer food needs for children and act.

Those decisions will soon be implemented, providing food and child care this summer.

“Our boards made the decisions when we still didn’t know if or how much government aid would be given for our kids,” explained Heather Warner, executive director of the GoPacks children’s meal program.

The program typically operates during the school year as a stop-gap supplement for children facing food insecurity at home after school and on the weekends.

Typically meals are sent home with a student to bridge the gap until they can return to school where free and reduced-price meals are provided.

But when the pandemic closed school doors, that need didn’t go away.

It increased.

Warner picked up more than 10 extra families in need of aid with food, as unemployment also skyrocketed across the country.

So the nonprofit leader partnered with the Boys and Girls Club of Washington County and tag-teamed delivery of meals as needed, delivering one week’s worth of groceries to families without reliable transportation.

Becca Johnson, executive director of the Boys and Girls Club of Washington County, initially partnered with Warner by physically driving groceries to 15 families in Washington County, adapting from in-school and after-school services to low-contact aid.

“And in addition to this program we’re continuing into the summer, helping Heather with delivery and as a pickup site for her families,” she said. “We’re also working with our families for their meals and will start a new grab-and-go lunch program for all youth whether you’re a member or not.”

The pair estimate that they can serve 135 children for 79 days with $17,500 in funding.

Fundraising and grants are now being sought to cover that cost, as the Boys and Girls Club also prepares to reopen at half-capacity for child care at the end of May.

“We’re going to be retraining our staff on all of the added safety measures, the cleaning and how that’s different than sanitizing and what toys can be used because they can be cleaned,” Johnson explained. “We’ll be checking temperatures of all of the staff every day and every child that comes in and there really won’t be the free movement of past summers.”

The program will instead look to serve approximately 45 students when a typical summer enrollment is 85-90 students.

“They’ll be sectioned into pods with their teachers, too,” said Johnson. “It will be a very different summer, but we’ll adjust, it just will look different with new arrows and signs and separate entrances and exits for our kids.”

Now that the Washington-Morgan Community Action meal program will also continue at its locations across the county for weekday distribution of children’s meals, the hope is the four feeding programs for children (one with childcare) will meet the need after schools discontinue their daily/weekly meal distributions to students out of buses, vans and elementary schools, all with an eye on June 1.

Both Warner and Johnson said ability to pay will not be a limiting factor on service.

“No child should go hungry, so I have been authorized by my board to take on more families,” said Warner, discussing food need.

Likewise, Johnson said, scholarships are available for families in need of aid for childcare.

Janelle Patterson may be reached at jpatterson@mariettatimes.com.

Food security for children under 18 in Washington County:

•The Boys and Girls Club of Washington County will continue the delivery of GoPacks weekly groceries to participating families through the summer.

• The Boys and Girls Club will also offer grab-and-go packed lunches at its Marietta location and at the Belpre Nazarene church this summer.

• For more information on how to support food insecurity through sponsoring funding to GoPacks, contact Heather Warner at info@GoPacks4kids.org or 740-628-5533.

Source: Becca Johnson and Heather Warner.

Washington-Morgan Community Action Summer Feeding Program sites:

• Jane Edwards Head Start Center, Marietta; opens June 8.

• John Dodge Park, Beverly; opens June 3.

• Lower Salem Village Hall; opens June 3.

• Lowell Elementary School; opens June 3.

• Newport Elementary School; opens June 3.

• Carrol Senior Center, New Matamoras; opens June 3.

• Lawrence Elementary, Lawrence Township on Ohio 26; opens June 8.

• Macksburg United Methodist Church; opens June 8.

Source: Washington County Public Library.

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