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Governor visits local summer food program for kids

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ARLEE – Gov. Steve Bullock and First Lady Lisa Bullock traveled to the Arlee Community Center July 24 along with a bus full of people to visit with about a dozen children impacted by a statewide program to provide food for kids. 

The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Education Summer Program and the state’s No Kid Hungry program partnered to provide activities and food for children during the summer months in locations across the Flathead Indian Reservation. Children don’t have to be experiencing food insecurity to participate. 

Tribal Education College and Career Readiness Coach Jodi Hunter was at the event. She said children attend the weekly program to participate in activities involving science, technology, engineering, art, math, tribal history and native games. 

Hunter said the tribe provides funding for the activities and the No Kid Hungry program provides the food so kids can learn and play without worrying about being hungry. 

Before the governor arrived, children started working on making a sun print for him and learning about the science of the activity. The kids found a spot on what looked like a blanket and didn’t move for 15 minutes. The light developed an outline around the children on the cloth. Photographer David Spear worked with the children to create the gift for the governor.

Azaylia Garga, 10, popped her head up long enough to say she was getting excited to see how the project would turn out. She said the group had a good lunch that included a sandwich before the activity started.  

The kids moved on to another station where they measured out the ingredients to make slime. Gov. Bullock said to one of the children that the mixture looked like a giant piece of yellow taffy being stretched out. The child smiled and nodded in agreement.

Gov. Bullock said solving hunger in Montana is a priority. He brought No Kid Hungry representatives from all across the country to see how Montana was utilizing the federal food program, which includes the summer lunch program.

He said programs to reduce hunger have worked in the past few years in Montana and the number of people with food insecurity has moved from 1 in 5 to 1 in 6. The No Kid Hungry program was implemented in Montana in 2012.

He said feeding children was a humanitarian issue that needed to be addressed because studies have shown that children are better prepared to learn when they are not hungry. 

Lisa Bullock said the numbers were being reduced due to “boots on the ground” efforts through community-based solutions. She said one program doesn’t fit every community, but programs can be tailored to fit each community. 

Bill Shore, founder of the Share Our Strengths No Kid Hungry program, was at the event from Washington D.C. He said he was traveling to different places to better understand the best ways to address poverty and hunger with a focus on children. 

“We don’t have a shortage of food in this country, so hunger is a solvable problem,” he said. “Montana is doing well towards solving the problem, so people are interested in seeing what is going on here.”

Shore said federally funded programs were available to provide meals for children that need them, but other barriers often prevent participation including a social stigma and transportation needs. He said his goal was to figure out how to change those issues.

“We want everyone that needs food to participate so that no one is hungry,” he said. 

Creating funding for federal programs to feed children is a project everyone can support, he said. “This has been a bipartisan effort. It makes sense to feed our kids.”

For information or help getting food-based programs started in any community in Montana including school breakfast programs, Shore encourages people to call Lisa Lee, the Montana Director of No Kid Hungry, at 406-444-3518.

Lee said the school breakfast program allows kids to pick up things like fruit and granola bars in the morning. She said it has helped reach children that might not make it to the cafeteria for a number of reasons including being late for class. The breakfast program has also helped teachers so they don’t have to dip into their own pockets for funding to feed hungry kids in the morning.

Gov. Bullock invited a group of people traveling across the country in a bus to the event including the founder of No Kid Hungry and the Montana director of the program.

Western Native Voices Executive Director Marci McLean-Pollock was also on the trip. She said it was important for people experiencing poverty and hunger to become leaders and advocate for the programs they need. 

She said she grew up on a reservation in poverty and didn’t care about politics until later in life when she found out that her voice could make a difference. “We need to help elected officials understand what poverty is like,” she said.

Rachelle Sartori, Montana’s No Kid Hungry community education and outreach coordinator, said creating community driven solutions was another important aspect of the issue. She also encourages people to get involved.

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