ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) – Every weekday morning Bean’s Cafe is bustling for meal preparation. The organization crafts between 200 and 250 meals every weekday that are distributed throughout 13 sites in Anchorage.
“It’s a variety of different school sites, camps,” said Bean’s Cafe and Children’s Lunchbox CEO Lisa Sauder. “All types of programs that are providing enrichment and engagement for kids, and a safe, healthy place for them to be.”
Traditionally during the school year, the Children’s Lunchbox focuses primarily on providing dinnertime-related meals. However, during the summer months, the organization focuses on providing youth with more breakfast and lunch-based meals.
“A lot of kids are getting breakfast and lunch at school and many times going to an after-school program for dinner,” Sauder said. “So when school closes for the summer, many students lose access to those meals.”
According to Sauder, at least 50% of Anchorage School District schools had students who were on a reduced or free meal plan during the school year. Once school lets out meals for summer break, making sure those youth continue to have a place to get food is critical, as a lack of access to school can create a spike in food insecurity seen in youth.
Additionally, Sauder said, they have been noticing a need in their services. Since March 2020, the Children’s Lunchbox Program has provided over 560,000 meals to families. However, with the current economic status, many families are now struggling more with food insecurity.
“As inflation continues and gas prices rise, it gets harder and harder for families. And they have to make difficult decisions about okay am I going to put 10 dollars worth of gas in or buy 10 dollars worth of groceries today,” Sauder said.
The struggle comes at a time after many financial support systems have ended, such a decrease in SNAP benefits and waivers for certain child nutrition programs coming to an end.
“A lot of families that were receiving rental assistance that’s now ended. So a lot of people are facing not only kind of a housing cliff in terms of support and subsidies but also, many times a cliff of food services,” Sauder said.
A little support now can go a long way for families and children struggling to determine where their next meal may come from. All food used in the Children’s Lunchbox program come from donations. Those interested in donating food can drop off items at the Bean’s Café administration building at 1020 4th Ave in downtown Anchorage.
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