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Food Insecurity: Q&A with Jennifer Schlenske of Spokane Valley Partners

Posted on March 26, 2015 at 6:00 am

By Sonia Gustafson

Food Insecurity: Q&A with Jennifer Schlenske of Spokane Valley Partners | Spokane County Library District

We often think of donating food and helping the less fortunate around the holidays, but as we approach the time for Food for Fines, we wanted to highlight a local agency that does good work in our community all year long. Spokane Valley Partners is a non-profit organization serving economically-disadvantaged residents who live east of the Spokane City limits out to the Idaho border. For nearly 25 years, Spokane Valley Partners has been assisting families by providing food, clothing, emergency services, information and education in achieving long-term self-reliance.

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Jennifer Schlenske, their Development Director, to talk about food insecurity, especially as it relates to young people.

Can you tell us what food insecurity means? How does it affect children and teens who are in school?

Food insecurity occurs when people run out of food, eat less, skip meals, go hungry, or when they subsist on a nutrient-poor diet because they cannot afford to buy food. According to the Washington State Department of Health’s 2013 Chronic Disease Profile, one in nine households in Spokane County experiences food insecurity.

It’s a critical issue for homeless children and it directly impacts their ability to stay focused during the school day and succeed academically. Children without homes are twice as likely as other children to experience hunger and this gravely threatens behavior, school performance, academic success and cognitive development. According to Spokane Regional Health District’s 2013 Spokane Counts Study, approximately 18 percent of adolescents in Spokane County experienced food insecurity in 2012.

You have some great programs and services at Spokane Valley Partners, including a community garden, food bank and clothing bank. Can you talk about the Food for Thought program? 

Spokane Valley Partners’ Food For Thought began in 2009 and is run solely by volunteers. Since its inception five years ago, this program has been completely managed by unpaid staff, yet its success and the number of kids it helps continues to grow. Participation in this program ranges from students in pre-school up through seniors in high school.

During the school year, Central Valley School District’s free or reduced meal program feeds kids during the week. Food For Thought ensures they eat on the weekends, too. The program focuses on helping homeless children who suffer from lack of access to nutritional meals by supplying them with non-perishable food for the weekend, in hopes they will come back to school Monday morning attentive, prepared and ready to learn. The goal of Food For Thought is to stuff every backpack with robust enough meals that homeless students are not only fed, but fed nutritious and protein-packed meals that allow them to keep their energy up over the weekend and prepare for the school week.

During the 2013-14 academic year, Food For Thought supplied weekend food to 180 homeless students on a weekly basis. Currently, for the 2014-15 academic year, we have seen the number of students accessing the program grow to nearly 400.

How are the food needs for this program different than general food bank donation needs? How can people help?

For the backpacks, we need ready-to-eat, single serve items. Food For Thought relies on monetary donations, made through Spokane Valley Partners, to purchase weekend-appropriate, non-perishable, student-friendly food. When funds for purchasing food are low, the program pulls from Food Bank inventory, and volunteers do their best to pick items students can enjoy. It also limits the ready-to-eat items available for the backpacks, as Food Bank inventory is never specific to Food For Thought needs. We have a list of recommended foods to donate for the program on our website. Recommended items include: granola bars, oatmeal packets, tuna, soup bowls, beef stew, noodle/rice entrees, cheese and crackers, canned fruit, and juice boxes.

Food donations can be dropped off at:

Spokane Valley Partners Food Bank
10814 East Broadway Avenue
Spokane Valley, WA 99206

Money donations can be made to:

Spokane Valley Partners
Food For Thought
P.O. Box 141360
Spokane Valley, WA 99214-1360

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