In Orange County 1 in 5 children experience food insecurity or another words not knowing where their next meal is coming from. A large body of research literature, amassed over the past two decades, show food insecurity and hunger, together with other correlates of poverty, can dramatically alter child health and development, which has implications but not only implications for the child but for the country’s economic growth and stability.
A teacher at King Elementary in Cypress, CA expressed concern about families that were on free and reduced lunch, wondering what food the children would eat when they were 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 children during the 10 weeks of summer?”
This began a search for solutions. She looked for options within already existing organizations and government programs and realized that there was a crack. The crack that she discovered that was causing kids to fall through the system was a numbers game. In factoring need for assistance during holidays and summer, the government bases the number on a percentage of need in the school. The number of students on free and reduced lunch in the school needed to be at 70% but the schools that also represented kids with food insecurity had 60% of their kids in the position of need. The schools didn’t qualify for a program and this meant neither did the kids.
In Los Alamitos and Cypress school districts, it is estimated that 1 in 7 children experience food insecurity. When the ratios rise, the trend that was found was that the help programs declined.
After a great deal of research into the numbers and 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 birthed.
Amy decided to found Summer Harvest. During her research she found a non-profit in Texas that was running a similar feeding program in the schools. She partnered with Food For the Soul in Keller, Texas, which allowed her to operate as a 501c3 in the first year. Locally, Summer Harvest partnered with the boys and girls club of Cypress and the Cypress Elementary School District to provide bags of fresh fruits, vegetables, staples and recipes for families to make healthy recipes at home.
The idea of the food that we give is to help supplement the cost of a free reduced lunch during the school year. We focus on fresh fruits and vegetables because these are the most nutritious foods but also present the most cost to families to purchase and often are skipped in lower socioeconomic households due to high cost.
Our first year we started with families from King Elementary School and approximately 35 families came throughout the summer.
Based on the success of the first year, we expanded the program to cover all of Cypress Elementary School District and Los Alamitos School District. In Los Alamitos, we partnered with the Youth Center to open a second distribution site. That year we watched Summer Harvest skyrocket to 185 families.
That same year we began a Christmas distribution that recognized the need for alternative cooking methods. We had 40 crockpots donated to give away to families as gifts. This enabled families during the busy season to have healthy meals prepared versus opting for less healthy, quick meal options. It also provided an option for cooking for some of the families living in motels or homes without full kitchens.
Our Mission is to provide healthy meals to families with children on the free and reduced lunch program, during breaks from school, through the distribution of food and education.
Our vision is to eliminate food insecurity for school-aged children in affluent communities where children do not qualify for government or other help programs.
Today Summer Harvest is an independent 501C3 that services nearly 200 families, providing distributions of food five times over the ten weeks of summer. We now work with a produce wholesaler and involve numerous community volunteers. (hyperlink volunteers sign up page) This season we have completed five food drives and have collected over 1400 pounds of food.
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:
We exist to feed kids who receive free-and-reduced lunches during the breaks from school.
Donate, volunteer, or sign up to receive food! Use the links at the top of the page to get involved today!