This is the third year Buncombe County has been providing USDA meals for children over the summer. In 2012, the program sort of flopped, delivering only 1500-2000 meals. Last year, 74,000 meals were served. Counts aren’t in for this year, but seventeen locations, including county pools and libraries will be serving free meals to any child under 18 years of age, no questions asked, and, according to the ads, “no strings attached.” The meals are free inasmuch as you pay no attention to the children behind the curtain.
The first year, participation was slow for reasons county staff did not want to expound when making a follow-up presentation before the commissioners. Last year, a post on the county’s web site explained meals were provided at county parks as “an incentive for children to participate in summer enrichment programs . . . . Having the meal sites at locations where children want to come and enjoy the outdoors has the added value of encouraging participation in the program and fighting obesity.”
Quotes of pertinent statistics tend to be incomplete and disjoint, but a report released this year by Feeding America, which bills itself as “the nation’s leading domestic hunger-relief charity,” estimated 26 percent of Buncombe County’s children are “food insecure.” Although definitions have changed through the years about what exactly that means, the USDA’s web site now states one can qualify with “reports of reduced quality, variety, or desirability of diet, and little or no indication of reduced food intake.”
When the summer meals program, which some counties actually refer to as a feeding program, began, 55.5 percent of children in Buncombe County were receiving Free and Reduced lunches in public schools. At that time students on the Free and Reduced list comprised over 80 percent of the population in twelve counties, and over 90 in four. To qualify this year, a single parent with one child need earn no more than $27,991. A family of four could have a household income of $42,643 and still qualify for trickledown from the federal deficit. What’s more, 14,224 children in Buncombe County are now on food stamps, and soup kitchens abound.
And yet, the USDA web site indicates the food-insecure continue to be underserved. “Learn how you can spread the word about free summer meals in your community,” it says. “Our resources include customizable fliers and handouts, an innovative strategies library, training videos, and radio PSAs. You don’t need to be a site or sponsor to use these resources; anybody can help raise awareness of summer meals!”
Some of the suggestions on the rather lengthy “Innovative Strategies for Increasing Participation in the USDA Summer Meals Program” pdf include, “Encourage schools to work with migrant sites;” “Let sponsors know about grant opportunities;” “Create banners, yard signs, and flags;” “Provide schools with flyers they can send home with students;” and “reframe the image of [what the USDA refers to as ‘feeding sites’] (for instance, fighting obesity).”
Promotional stories for the program, as well as former county web site posts, have referenced WhyHunger. The group, founded by the late recording artist Harry Chapin and Bill Ayres (not to be confused with the Weather Underground’s Bill Ayers), seeks to provide a voice for the very communist-sounding subject matter of food justice. The group receives funding from private grants and donations, fundraisers starring famous musicians, and, yes, a little bit from the USDA.
WhyHunger, among other services, provides a toolkit for community food assessments. The tool was endorsed by Barbara Cohen of the USDA’s Economic Research Service. She supported its use by government officials and community planners for “gathering information about general community characteristics and community food resources as well as material for assessing household food security, food resource accessibility, food availability and affordability, and community food production resources.”
WhyHunger encourages individuals to lobby their local governments to appropriate funds for food policy councils. The organization’s web page explains, “In most governments, many different departments work in some way with food. Because there is no one Department of Food, however, efforts are often uncoordinated, or even at direct cross purposes. A food policy or systems council can be an effective body to examine all food-related policies and departments and make recommendations for how they can better work together.”
Among capacity-building endeavors, the site explains that most people who have migrated to the United States legally are prohibited from receiving food stamps for five years. It then provides a link to the USDA’s page with the title “Non-Citizen Guidance.” Clicking on the link to SNAP, one finds FAQ #6 to be an inquiry about SNAP and medical marijuana.
Well, Asheville and Buncombe already have a Food Policy Council, championed by Asheville City Councilman Gordon Smith. The group, which is made up of a number of clusters, held its first meeting on April 2 of this year. To its credit, instead of begging for more federal funding, the group has thus far worked to ease up on zoning ordinances that unnecessarily prohibit gardening or the sale of fresh produce off the back of a truck. If leftists in Asheville continue to pursue this sensible course of action, local liberty-loving independents could actually bite the hand that is trying to bait them into becoming a knavish bunch of urchins at the feeding sites.