By Eileen Frazer
Nourish to Flourish volunteer
In April 2018, several concerned citizens got together after learning that 39 percent of the elementary school-age children on San Juan Island are either on free or reduced lunch support. In addition, 17 percent of children under age 6 in the county live in extreme poverty and 51 percent of single working mothers earn below the federal poverty level of $24,600 a year. Data was shared showing direct relationships between poverty, poor nutrition and low math and reading scores. The first task was to understand the problem of hunger and need in the community. Volunteers met with community leaders, such as Dr. Frank James and Kristen Rezabek, from the San Juan Health and Community Services, and Jennifer Armstrong, from the Family Resource Center, who verified that poverty was rising, and they saw increasing numbers trying to feed families on stagnant wages and high grocery bills.
The group started meeting regularly and included representatives from the school district, the food bank, the food co-op, and the San Juan Island Farmers Market. By May 2018, the group had a name, Nourish to Flourish. The mission, “We will end hunger on San Juan Island.”
One of the partnerships is a backpack program that sends home nutritious food for kids who would otherwise go hungry over the weekend during the school year. Thanks to Rotary Club support, the “36 Weekends” program began at the start of the 2018-19 school year for elementary students on San Juan Island.
An initiative proposed by the Nourish to Flourish group is the Fresh Bucks program. Helping low-income people increase access to fruits and vegetables reduces the risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Buying more fruits and vegetables also supports local growers and the local food system. Through this program, purchases of fruits and vegetables at the food co-op and farmers market are matched up to $20, doubling food dollars for produce for qualified applicants – those earning less than $50,196 a year for a family of four. Fresh Bucks started in July and will continue as our funding allows.
For many folks of all ages, hunger remains a serious problem on San Juan Island despite the efforts of the local food assistance programs, which, in turn, are supported by the local service clubs, grocers, churches, volunteers and donors. The Nourish to Flourish initiative seeks to end hunger on San Juan Island by offering additional support for existing programs and filling in the hunger nutrition gaps in the local community.
Volunteers welcome donations from the community to assist in the continuing mission to end hunger on San Juan Island. The Family Resource Center collects donations for Nourish to Flourish. There are no administrative fees and every donation through this nonprofit center is 100 percent for food.
Everyone can end hunger, promote healthy food habits, and support local growers.