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Merkley introduces bill to help keep rural during the summer


 WASHINGTON (KTVZ) -- Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., recently introduced the Feeding Our Rural Kids (FORK) Act, legislation that would amend the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act to establish a vehicle summer meal delivery pilot program to help feed kids in rural communities.

The FORK Act is inspired by Oregon ingenuity. In an effort to make sure students had access to healthy, nutritious meals during the summer, Umatilla Superintendent Heidi Sipe purchased a mobile school meal vehicle to facilitate the home-delivery of school meals during the summer.

“Every child—everywhere—deserves nutritious meals all year long,” said Senator Merkley. “Umatilla Superintendent Heidi Sipe thought outside the box to make sure her students got the meals they needed. The FORK Act creates a pilot program to help ensure our rural kids have access to essential meals no matter the season and no matter where they live throughout America.”

Over half a million people in Oregon, including one in five children, struggle with food insecurity. The Feeding Our Rural Kids Act would create a grant program to allow for schools and Summer Food Service Program providers in rural districts to receive funding to purchase mobile food delivery vehicles for home delivery of meals. This would allow for providers to take advantage of flexibilities included in last year’s omnibus funding bill that would allow for home-delivery in rural communities.

The Feeding Our Rural Kids Act is endorsed by UnidosUS, the School Nutrition Association, Share Our Strength, and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

"Fueling learners is a crucial part of the school day and summer meal programs provide an opportunity for students to gather for nutrition, socialization and learning opportunities when school is out,” said Heidi Sipe, Superintendent of Umatilla Schools. “Having the food truck in our district has allowed for the meals to expand beyond a simple sack lunch to instead involve full, hot, meals and a variety of entree options. This opportunity also allows us to serve in multiple locations and reach more students. Having this option expanded throughout the United States is an incredible opportunity for students.”

“UnidosUS is proud to support Sen. Merkley's bill, which would establish the Vehicle Summer Meal Delivery Pilot Program, and we thank Sen. Merkley for his leadership in introducing this vital legislation to advance food security,” Eric Rodriguez, Senior Vice President of Policy and Advocacy at UnidosUS. “America's Latino and immigrant families face several barriers to their children accessing healthy and affordable food, including challenges with transportation.

"This bill makes critical investments in promoting equitable access to summer meals by prioritizing students from disadvantaged backgrounds and those in high-poverty areas. Food security and reducing barriers to accessing nutritious foods are issues that have long been priorities for UnidosUS. At a time when many families continue to struggle with putting food on the table, the tens of millions of children who struggle with hunger must have equitable access to the food they need to learn and grow.”

“Too many families in need lack transportation to summer meal sites, leaving healthy meals out of reach to hungry students over summer break,” said Lori Adkins, MS, SNS, CHE, School Nutrition Association President. “The Feeding Our Rural Kids (FORK) Act would offer critical funds to help schools and other summer meal sponsors overcome this hurdle and ensure students return to school nourished for success.” 

“For children who receive free or reduced-price school meals, the summer months can be the hungriest time of year,” said Lisa Davis, senior vice president of Share Our Strength and its No Kid Hungry campaign. “This bill will help make non-congregate meal options a reality in rural communities, helping to close the summer meal gap and supporting one of the most consequential changes to federal nutrition programs we’ve seen in years.”

Bill text can be found here.

Article Topic Follows: Oregon-Northwest

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