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Leah Gayman and Brad Sell: Collaborative looks to solve county food problems

March 25, 2012|By LEAH GAYMAN and BRAD SELL

The United Way and Community Foundation of Washington County are submitting monthly editorials to keep the Strategic Community Impact Plan (SCIP) process in the forefront of the minds of those in our community and to report on progress that is being made toward the SCIP goals.

We are excited to share a productive conversation that has been taking place amongst many community partners around the topic of hunger. This Food Program Collaborative has been discussing issues, such as distribution of available resources, programs and eligibility, nutrition and gaps that need to be filled moving forward.

In tough times, families have to make crucial decisions because of their limited budgets. Do I pay the light bill or put food on the table? Can I buy fresh fruit and vegetables for my family or is it cheaper to go to a fast-food restaurant? To help alleviate these constraints, the Collaborative is engaging in discussions to find solutions. They are doing the process of asset mapping: Seeing what exists and where and then determining what is lacking for those in need.

Fortunately, the Free and Reduced Price Meals (FARM) provided through Washington County Public Schools can help children during the school year. Did you know that almost half of Washington County students in elementary, middle and high schools are eligible to be part of this program? In fact, it is over 50 percent when solely looking at the number of elementary school students. This surely indicates the propensity of poverty in Washington County.

While this collaborative will be discussing several facets of hunger, such as senior citizen food and nutrition and a more efficient process for distribution of all food, it is currently focusing on summer food for youth and enrichment programs to help diminish learning loss. Activities to foster learning while school is out of session over the summer months are crucial to the overall academic success of our youth. This focus is touching on SCIP Goal No. 2: To help reduce learning loss, within three years, school-age children will have access to extended school year, summer and weekend learning opportunities, regardless of socio-economic situation, and SCIP Goal  No. 7: All students will have access to social and emotional supports and physical and mental health services, with focus on a third strategy point — develop partnerships to offer nutrition programs when school is out of session.

Once we take an inventory as to what is happening or needed in these areas, we will report on plans and progress.

For now, we wanted to emphasize the importance of collaborations and discussions of this type that are taking place.

Sure, moving the needle on our community’s pressing issues is essential for growth and prosperity. However, one main by-product of the SCIP process is to get the community mobilized and working together toward common goals. There are passionate people in this community who care about our quality of life. We need to harness this enthusiasm and expertise in an organized manner by breaking down silos, avoid duplication of efforts and build efficient services and programs. Focusing on quality is essential too. It’s about transforming good intentions into effective tactics. We need to aspire for something great and produce results.

We’d like to thank Washington County Public Schools, Meritus Health, nonprofits, the faith community, citizens and businesses that make up the 50-person Food Program Collaborative. It is an effort to be replicated and one that our community deserves.


Leah Gayman is executive director of United Way of Washington County. Brad Sell is executive director of Community Foundation of Washington County, Inc.

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