Free summer lunches in Chiloquin pave the way to more food security

Girl cooking.

Summer is a particularly high-risk time for youth in Chiloquin who aren’t getting the school lunches, physical activity or social connections provided during school months. A rural town of 700, Chiloquin residents rely on food supplies that come 27 miles from Klamath Falls. The area around the town is the traditional home of the Klamath, Modoc and Yahooskin Band of Snake Paiute people.

From 40% to 50% of residents are of Native American descent who have experienced multi-generational trauma from the loss of tribal lands and cultural practices. More than 40% live below poverty level and almost 90% of elementary students qualify for free or reduced lunches. Adding to the problems, Chiloquin parks are considered unsafe because of drug/alcohol activity and vandalism.

In 2017, Oregon State University Extension Service and partners instituted a free summer lunch program for youth aged 0 to 18 years old. Historically, Chiloquin had low participation in summer food programs despite high food insecurity. According to Summer Meals for Oregon Kids, only one in eight eligible children participate in rural areas like Chiloquin where there’s a lack of transportation, adults are unavailable to accompany children and many people are not aware of the free program.

The lunch program supplies healthy meals to youth and their families, provides social connections and physical activity in a safe environment. The goal is to have the Chiloquin community embrace the summer lunch program rather than have food shipped from Klamath Falls.

Working with community partners, OSU Extension provided administrative and coordination support to get the lunch program going. With help from volunteers and student interns, the program was expanded from six weeks to 11 weeks. The team offered not only nutritional homemade food, but also a place for families to come together in a safe environment. Participants had the opportunity to participate in active games, arts and craft, petting zoos, reading and library activities. 

A highlight of the summer was a cooking class sponsored by Klamath Tribes and OSU Extension. The enthusiastic youth kept requesting more cooking lessons so another class was added at the end of the summer. Students were able to cook recipes used in the summer lunch program and from OSU’s Food Hero. Food supplies were sent home with the kids so they could prepare meals with their families.

The program was so successful that the meals served doubled in 2018 (1,297 with 911 fed to youth). In a survey of adults, 73% said they came to spend time with their children and grandchildren and talk to other Chiloquin residents. Frequently, adults with alcohol and drug issues came for a free meal and expressed their appreciation for the welcoming environment. Significant inroads were made for community support and buy-in that will help Chiloquin own the program and aid in healing long-term scars.

In 2018, the program won the team category of the USDA Western Region Summer Sunshine Award. In 2020, the program received a grant from Klamath Tribes and funding from Klamath County Health Department to sustain the effort.

Partners in the program include Methodist Church of Chiloquin, Klamath Tribes, Klamath County Library, Klamath-Lake Food Bank, Sierra Service Project, Chiloquin Christian Center, Chiloquin First Coalition, and community volunteers.

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