By Bob Balgemann

REPORTER

Not many are thinking about summer, other than hoping it will come back sooner than later.

That doesn’t include the Boone County Health Department, which just held an informational meeting about its plans to be a summer feeding site for the second year. The program is funded by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and administered by the Illinois State Board of Education.

Initially, the department for three years assisted Community Action/City of Rockford, in setting up such sites at local churches and organizations. During the summer of 2016, the department itself participated as an actual feeding site.

“Our office was a pilot project site, and we were asked to integrate the Summer Food Program with our current WIC (Women, Infants and Children) program,” Health Department Administrator Amanda Mehl said. “We were one of only two pilot sites in the state of Illinois. This past year, Boone County started with seven sites.”

The locations, total days of operation, and meals served over June, July, and August are listed below:

The Boone County Health Department served meals for 380 meals over 27 days.

The Capron Lions Club served 80 meals over eight days.

Belvidere City Hall served 46 meals over nine days.

First United Methodist Church in Belvidere served 209 meals over 32 days.

Poplar Grove United Methodist Church served 13 meals over four days.

St. John’s United Church of Christ in Belvidere served 226 meals over 31 days.

In all, 954 meals were served Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, from 11 a.m. to noon.

Such a program is valuable in Boone County where 14.9 percent of the residents live in poverty.

In addition, 10.7 percent (5,760 individuals) are “food insure,” meaning they’re not sure where their next meal is coming from.

In Belvidere, 43 percent of the school-aged children receive free and reduced lunches when school is in session.

“As public health professionals striving to prevent disease and promote and protect the health of Boone County, we are all too aware of the growing nutritional needs and food insecurities amongst our youngest and most vulnerable constituents,” Mehl wrote in a letter to Jacqueline Pipitone, assistant to the director of special nutritional programs at the USDA’s Midwest Regional Office.

To ensure awareness of the department’s first year as a feeding site, its WIC-certified health professionals and intake staff promote the program during individual certification, follow-up appointments and during group education classes.

There was a door-to-door canvassing campaign; hundreds of door hangars and flyers were left in target, low-income neighborhoods throughout the county.

Later in the summer of 2016, the department’s community garden was incorporated as a teaching opportunity for WIC families and participants in the summer feeding program. The two raised beds were erected behind the department at 1204 Logan Ave. in Belvidere through a state grant.

On weather-permitting days, lunch was served next to the garden. There, representatives from the University of Illinois Extension Office, their Master Gardeners and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) educators were there to enhance the educational component of the pilot program in Boone County.

For direct questions about this summer’s program to the health department, call (815) 544-2951.