Food Access Team discuss actions for Summer EBT loss

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T-R PHOTO BY LANA BRADSTREAM Marshall County Extension Director Amy Pieper leads the Community Food Access Team meeting on Wednesday. Members discussed ways to help resident children who will get hit with the loss of the federal Summer EBT program.
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By Lana Bradstream, Times-Republican

The Community Food Access Team continues to come up with ways to help a growing number of Marshall County residents overcome food insecurity. This summer, the team will have another issue to deal with — the loss of the Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) program.

Summer EBT supplies families with children $40 each month for food. Gov. Kim Reynolds decided in December 2023 that the state will not participate in the United States Department of Agriculture program.

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During a Wednesday meeting at the Marshall County Iowa State University Extension office, almost 20 team members discussed how to meet the upcoming challenge.

Marshall County Extension Director Amy Pieper brought up the program, which she said began during the COVID-19 pandemic. One team member said it is important to be proactive or families will be hit with the loss suddenly.

Fortunately, Pieper said the Marshalltown Community School District still plans to provide breakfast and lunch for any child younger than 18 during the summer break.

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However, it is unknown if the meals will be available in August. Pieper said if that is the case, the team will need to come up with ways to get food to kids.

“There may not be any meals provided at the school,” she said.

Anson Elementary Principal Ronnie Manis said the meals generally coincide with Bobcat University.

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Cindy Staron with the Emergency Food Box said when the summer hits, they will continue to serve families the way they have been.

“We continue to see 50 plus new families every month,” she said. “About 40 percent of our total numbers every month are children. We will make sure families are aware of the summer meals offered by the school district.”

Staron said if the district meals are not provided in August, the team could contact area churches.

“If one church took a week, another took a week, it’s an option to provide something,” she said. “Churches are often willing to fill that need one way or another.”

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Staron said she was not sure if the district monitors whether or not the children receiving meals are MCSD students. Manis told her as long as they are 18 or younger, and eat the meals on premises, they can get the food.

Pieper asked Manis if the food pantries within the school buildings are closed in August. He said it varies from building to building, but Anson keeps the pantry open.

“We might try to gather that information also,” Pieper said. “So we can provide more resources during August, especially.”

One resource touched on by Lynne Carroll, director of Heart of Iowa Big Brothers Big Sisters, are the community Facebook groups, such as Marshall County Outreach.

“Those are really positive places where people will log in when they have a need,” she said. “That could be another way for people to help.”

Pieper said the next team meeting will be June 5.

“Let’s keep this topic on the agenda for the June 5 meeting, specifically addressing if we need to have some focus on the August timeframe for families,” she said.

After the meeting, MICA Resource Development and Communications Coordinator Abra Dougherty said all students in MCSD who receive free and reduced lunches would have been eligible for Summer EBT. Upon hearing of the loss of the program, her heart dropped to her stomach.

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“I don’t understand the logic because there are so many families in need,” she said. “For the first time in 10 years, food is the number one need for families. It was hard to hear. Families are struggling, the need is there and is not getting fulfilled. We are trying to fill the gaps, but it keeps getting larger.”

Dougherty said in January, there were 3,901 Marshall County residents who received SNAP. It is a good bet to say half of those — 1,950 — are children who will no longer get Summer EBT.

Using the 40 percent estimate from the Emergency Food Box, 1,560 children might have troubles getting food this summer. However, Staron stressed not all of the food box clients are SNAP users.

Dougherty said MICA is trying to develop some programs to meet the upcoming summer need.

Contact Lana Bradstream at 641-753-6611 ext. 210 or [email protected].

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