Summer Harvest is working to provide healthy foods to families with children on the free or reduced lunch program during summer and winter breaks through the distribution of food and education.
According to the Orange County Coalition, approximately 24% of Orange County children are food insecure or have limited/uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods.
We work in communities that have less than 50% of their students on the federal lunch assistance program; these communities are not eligible for federal funding during school breaks.
The concept is to supplement the families’ food budget with fresh fruits and vegetables because they are the most nutritious, yet the most expensive, part of a food budget. Each distribution includes fresh fruits and vegetables, eggs, and family-friendly recipes that use the produce along with regular grocery items, including items like cereal, rice, and pasta.
Our Vision is to eliminate food insecurity for school-aged children in affluent communities where school districts do not qualify for government programs.
Based on the success of the first year with families from King Elementary School in Cypress, Summer Harvest expanded the program to cover all of Cypress Elementary School District and Los Alamitos Unified School District. In 2016, Summer Harvest partnered with Fountain Valley School District to offer the program to more families. Over the last few years, we have included neighboring high school and middle schools in our distribution based on the geography of the areas we serve.
Summer Harvest is a 100% volunteer-based, independent 501(c)(3) that this year will serve over 600 families, providing distributions of food seven times over the 13 weeks of summer and once in December. To date this year, we have doubled the number of families we serve. We work with a produce wholesaler, partner with Second Harvest Food Bank OC and Brecken’s Kitchen, and involve nearly 200 community volunteers. We partner with the Cypress and Los Alamitos Kiwanis to provide summer reading materials to all the children enrolled at all of our locations. Summer Harvest has also partnered with different corporations, non-profits, service, and youth organizations to provide backpacks filled with school supplies to get children ready for the new school year. Due to Covid-19, we are using a drive-through distribution system, six-foot distancing for volunteers, and masks/gloves.
Statistics from the United States Department of Agriculture states that 10.5 percent (13.7 million) of U.S. households were food insecure throughout 2019, with 35.2 million people living in food-insecure households and up to 5.3 million children living in food insecure households (Economic Research Service: United States Department of Agriculture, n.d.).
To hone in on the affected areas of the local communities we work with, in Orange County alone, there are at least one in six children who are at risk of hunger and are unsure of where their next meal may come from (Second Harvest, n.d.). From the years between 2015 to 2020, the increase of children on the free and reduced lunch program have significantly increased from 1,223 to 1,701 in Los Alamitos School Unified District. At Cypress Elementary, percentages have remained nearly steady throughout the past 5 years, with 1,2777 children on the free and reduced lunch program during the 2019-2020 academic year. With a slight decrease in children on the free and reduced lunch program during the 2016-2017 school year, numbers have significantly increased to 1,523 students this year alone. Another affected school district that is impacted by food insecurity is Anaheim Union School District, that has 1,523 students on the free and reduced lunch program in their high school and 13,932 students enrolled in the program at Anaheim Elementary. These soaring numbers reveal the need for healthy and readily available food so that families are able to provide for their children in the most health conscious and beneficial way possible.
How it started
A teacher at King Elementary School in Cypress, CA expressed concern about the students that were on free and reduced lunch, and wondered what the students would have to eat home over Christmas break? The founder of Summer Harvest, Amy Payne, began to sit with this teacher’s question and wondered, “If families struggle over the two weeks of Christmas, what happens to those students during the 10 weeks of summer?”
She searched for options within already existing organizations, government programs and realized that there was a gap in the government programs. She discovered that it a numbers game. The number of students on free and reduced lunch in the school needs to be 50% for the school to qualify for the summer federal feeding program. If the schools do not qualify for the program then neither did the students.
After a great deal of research into programs already in existence, Amy recognized that if something was going to be done to eliminate food insecurity for children in unqualified districts, a new program would need to be created.
How we solved the Problem
During her research Amy found a non-profit in Texas that was running a similar feeding program at schools. She partnered with Food for the Soul in Keller, Texas, which allowed her to operate as a 501(c)(3) in the first year. Locally, Summer Harvest partnered with the Boys and Girls Club of Cypress and the Cypress Elementary School District for a distribution site and packing facilities.
The food that Summer Harvest provides is to help supplement the cost of a lunch during the school year. The focus is on fresh fruits and vegetables because they are the most nutritious foods but, also present the highest cost for families to purchase. Fresh produce is often skipped in lower socioeconomic households due to the high cost.
Summer Harvest assisted about 35 families from the King Elementary School attendance area the first summer. Fresh fruits, vegetables, and staples, to make the recipes provided, were distributed six Saturdays during the summer.
Based on the success of the first year, Summer Harvest expanded the program to cover all of Cypress Elementary School District and Los Alamitos Unified School District. In the city of Los Alamitos, we partnered with the Youth Center to open a second distribution site. With a second distribution site the number of families served increased over 400%.
Summer Harvest’s first Winter distribution recognized the need for alternative cooking methods. Donated crockpots were given to families to encourage preparation of healthy meals versus a less healthy fast food option. This was a bonus to families living in motels or homes without a full kitchen.
With the success of the first two years, Summer Harvest decided to incorporate in as Summer Harvest – Food for Kids, Inc. which is a 503(c)(3). During the school year Summer Harvest received over 1,400 pounds of food from other organization’s food drives. Summer food distributions continued in Cypress and Los Alamitos. A new addition on the last distribution of the summer was backpacks filled with school supplies for all students in the family. The number of families served continued to increase.
Summer Harvest partnered with another school district to get food into the hands of hungry children. Fountain Valley School District at the time had 22%, or 1,400, of its children on free and reduced lunch. The first year in the district was a huge success. We had 70 families enrolled in the program.
Where we are today
Summer Harvest, a 100% volunteer run 501(c)(3) organization, continues to partner with the Cypress Elementary School District, Los Alamitos Unified School District and Fountain Valley School District and well as school in the Anaheim Union School District. We purchase produce from a wholesaler in Los Angeles to reduce cost. Nearly 200 community volunteers are involved in the packing, transporting, and distributing to the families during the summer. Each year the number of families served has increased.
Serving with Summer Harvest
Getting involved with Summer Harvest is fun and easy. We need volunteers on Fridays to help pack the bags for distribution. Saturday mornings, volunteers are key in the distribution of the food to families.
Other ways you can get involved:
Host a food drive or school supply drive
Donate financially to the mission
Volunteer to serve on a committee or board. We are looking for people that are skilled in: