Providing a secure source of supplemental nutrition to children in need is Whidbey Island Nourishes’ mission. Congressman Rick Larsen says he wants to help.
The Second District Democrat visited Langley Thursday morning and joined volunteers in the former primary school kitchen to make sandwiches for delivery to kids and families in need.
Larsen is spearheading the Summer Meals Act of 2016, which is a bipartisan bill designed to fight child hunger by expanding support during the summer months where food is not readily available through school food programs.
“You get free and reduced lunches during the school year, some schools have breakfast as well,” Larsen said. “Summer is a big drop off of supplying good, nutritious meals to kids. This is where volunteers tend to step in.”
In its eighth year, Whidbey Island Nourishes delivers 1.5 pound meals to approximately 197 children per week, with an annual distribution of about 25,000 meals. They provide take-home meals which include protein sandwiches on locally-sourced whole wheat bread from Sundance Bakery, fresh fruit and vegetables, yogurt, cheese sticks, trail mix, seasonal salads and homemade treats such a baked muffins. The meals are delivered directly to children for weekends and vacations.
Home delivery is also arranged for families that have multiple children and/or children not in schools.
“A la carte” selections are available from two no-cost vending machines located in Langley and Clinton. The machines are refreshed daily.
Whidbey Island Nourishes is also a member of the South Whidbey HELP Network, which is a collection of nonprofits on the island.
Margaret Andersen, board secretary, said she met Larsen while attending a HELP Network meeting, where she discussed the shortfalls Whidbey Island Nourishes was facing when they were cut from the federally-funded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
“When Congress reduced the funding, when demand went up for people who didn’t have enough food benefits to get them through the month, he wanted to follow up so his staff contacted us and here we are,” Andersen said.
Mary Fisher, founder and president of Whidbey Island Nourishes, said that despite Whidbey looking like a “well-to-do” community, there are still issues with food insecure children similar to many other rural communities. She admitted she wasn’t aware of the problem while living on Whidbey for 33 years and when her children went through the school system.
Fisher said she met Larsen two years ago and it became clear he was trying to make a difference in addressing the problem.
“It was obvious that he was trying to find out what was happening here,” Fisher said. “So I’m really happy he’s back to see what we do in particular and be able to answer questions from our volunteers about what he’s doing. Basically, our thing is to provide these kids with a good solid, nutritious meal and something they can count on, because they can’t count on their families and they can’t count on the government basically to provide enough food.”
Whidbey Island Nourishes has around 150 volunteers who prepare meals three times a week.
“Our food is highly nutritious,” Fisher said. “We really don’t provide them with sugary snacks that they might find in a lunch program somewhere else. That’s always been our goal to keep our standards high.”