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Above: Tonya Stultz and her son Miles at a Food Program Training in April. These trainings are one of many free resources available through RCCC.

Food program injects hundreds of thousands of dollars into the community

Monday, July 7, 2014

Tonya Stultz, mother to five-month-old Miles and a childcare provider in Ukiah, works closely with the Rural Communities Child Care (RCCC) program. Run by North Coast Opportunities, RCCC provides Stultz and other child care providers in Mendocino and Lake Counties with free trainings and events like an annual Provider Appreciation dinner; resources including educational materials and toys; and client referrals. But Stultz’s favorite benefit of working with RCCC is getting reimbursed for most of her food costs. She participates in the California Adult and Childcare Food Program (CACFP), a state-funded program that supports child care providers who serve healthy meals and snacks to the children in their care.

Stultz, who said she “wanted to be like Mary Poppins” from a very young age, started participating in CACFP seven years ago. “I was trying to talk to parents about nutrition, but those that didn’t care weren’t bringing healthy food for their kids,” says Stultz. “I couldn’t afford to provide it myself, so I joined the food program to be able to serve healthy food to all the kids in my care.”

Every year, CACFP funnels hundreds of thousands of dollars into Lake and Mendocino Counties. In 2014 the amount is $418,000, with $340,000 going directly toward reimbursing childcare providers for the healthy food they serve.

That money is at risk if a fraction of that amount – $30,000 – can’t be raised by September 30, the end of the federal fiscal year. According to Teri Sedrick, Program Director for Rural Communities Child Care, “Right now I’m assuming we have to function without all that money, and figuring out what’s going to be cut.”

The additional $30,000 is necessary to pay for staff hours not covered by CACFP. The food reimbursement money is essentially useless without staff to recruit child care providers, help them apply for the program, and do the daily, weekly, and monthly tasks associated with keeping the program running. That includes checking and troubleshooting the provider paperwork, as well as doing tri-annual site visits at all participating providers. Says Sedrick, “If we can’t staff it, we can’t do it.”

For the past several years, Sedrick has been finding ways to cover that $30,000 using existing funds and creative budgeting. However, state and federal cuts to child care programming means that there is no wiggle room to make up the deficit. “It’s too bad because $30,000 is really a drop in the bucket compared to the wide reach the program has,” says Sedrick.  Because the providers spend the Food Program money in the communities where they work and live, it creates a multiplier effect that benefits everyone. And with 60 to 70 child care providers participating each year, hundreds of children are served healthy meals and snacks every day.

Monica Quintero, a childcare provider in Potter Valley, has been participating in CACFP for about seven years. In addition to getting reimbursed, Quintero likes the program because it equalizes what’s being eaten. “When parents used to bring lunches, kids would fight or get jealous because they had different food,” she says. “Now, the kids give me ideas about what they’d like to eat and help me prepare it. It’s fun and educational.”

CACFP is easy to apply for, with resources and applications available in English and Spanish and staff members on hand to answer questions and help with the process. Although it requires daily accounting of what was served, “it’s not much work once you’ve gotten the hang of it,” says Stultz. Adds Quintero, “The forms are really simple to fill out.”

The benefits far outweigh the paperwork. Stultz says that the children in her care “clear their plates,” and that it’s a great selling feature when parents are deciding whether or not to enroll their kids.

Childcare Food Program Manager Jamie Castaldo is hopeful that enough money can be raised through grants and business partnerships to keep the program going. RCCC worked with First 5 to apply for a nutrition grant to support Lake County childcare providers, which has been awarded and will help to enhance the program. RCCC is also reaching out to the local grocery stores most frequented by childcare providers. “I hope they see the program as a value to the community and to their businesses, and want to work with us,” says Castaldo, who notes that many avenues are being explored. “We’re working very hard to find a way to keep this funded.”

For more information on the Food Program or to make a donation, contact Castaldo at (707) 994-4647, extension 128.