South Columbia residents debate city’s plan to add roundabouts on Nifong

Mike McMillen raises questions about an increase in traffic near two projected roundabouts during a meeting Tuesday at Mill Creek Elementary School. “I live about three-quarters of a mile south of the affected intersection, Nifong and Sinclair,“ McMillen said. “With the new school, there’s going to be more traffic.”

COLUMBIA — Nifong Boulevard will get two new roundabouts, but their proximity to an elementary school and a planned middle school has some nearby residents concerned.

The $3.1 million project includes construction of a roundabout where Nifong turns into Vawter School Road, and another where Nifong intersects with Sinclair.

The intersection at Sinclair and Nifong is right next to Mill Creek Elementary and a mile from a prospective site for a new middle school.

About 40 people attended an open house Tuesday evening at Mill Creek Elementary to ask questions about and discuss the roundabout plans with project managers.

Allison Anderson, the city’s engineering supervisor, said that based on traffic counts and projected traffic flow analysis, roundabouts would be the best solution for current traffic congestion at the intersections.

“It really backs up at 5 o’clock, especially at Sinclair,” Anderson said. “The four-way stops are, in general, hard to get the traffic through since everybody has to stop and go.”

Sandra Beck, a 16-year resident of nearby neighborhood Hunters Ridge, said she has seen the traffic double since she moved to the neighborhood.

“We do need something for the intersections,” Beck said. “This solution is to move the traffic through it quickly so that (residents) can get home earlier.”

Some residents at the open house, however, seemed dissatisfied with the city’s plan to add more roundabouts so close to a school area.

John Karles, a 12-year resident of the Mill Creek neighborhood, expressed concerns about children’s safety around the intersections. Karles has his two children in Mill Creek Elementary.

“I don’t mind a roundabout, but in a school zone, no … there’s not enough lights to let them know it’s a school zone,” he said. “When you go through a roundabout, what would you do? You got to speed through it. It’s dangerous for the kids and parents crossing the streets.”

In fact, research shows that roundabouts are safer than stop signs and traffic signals because they force drivers to slow. According to data on the state of Washington’s Department of Transportation, roundabouts reduce injury-causing traffic crashes by 75 percent.

The projects will be funded by the city’s quarter-cent capital improvement tax that was approved by voters in August 2015. Construction of each roundabout is scheduled to start in 2019. Other public meetings on the issue will be scheduled in the coming months.

Supervising editor is John Sadler.

Medals acknowledge competitors’ passion at Senior Games horseshoes

William Cannon, 86, tightly holds horseshoes, getting ready for his turn to throw on Friday at Cosmo Park. Cannon said he has been competing in the horseshoe toss ever since he came for the first Senior Games. Cannon said he gives his medals to volunteers of other events to remind them of the importance of keeping healthy.

COLUMBIA — William Cannon added another medal to his collection in horseshoes at Cosmo Park on Friday afternoon. He has taken part in the Senior Games since 1988 and won countless medals. This time, he came in second place.

“How many medals did I win? I’m not bragging, but I have won over 3,000 medals from Senior Games and Masters Swimming Games,” the 86-year-old Cannon said.

Cannon was one of the seven participants in the event at the Games this year, and all were awarded medals in various age brackets. After competing for an hour in scorching heat, the sweat was rolling off their faces, but the clinking sound of horseshoes never stopped.

“It’s fun,” Cannon said, “and you should make this fun.”

The medal Cannon received Friday is not likely going to be in his hands very long. Cannon said he gives most of his medals to volunteers and young people as a reminder of the life lesson he has cherished.

“I tell them, ‘I want you to keep this medal. If anybody offers you any contraband, think about all of us here, over 50 years of age,'” Cannon said.

“How do we get here? We have been taking care of our health, being active and doing things.”

Cannon said he was also going to take part in other events later in the afternoon, including basketball, football and washers. It was not only him. The seven rushed to their next events after receiving their medals from horseshoes, showing their great ardor for the Games.

“We can do weightlifting, running and cycling,” Cannon said. “You think, ‘Oh, my gosh. They over 50 years old, and they all can do this?’ It opens the eyes of the youth.”

Horseshoes competitors came from all different areas of the state to take part in the event. Cannon drove two hours from Ballwin, Missouri, early Friday morning. The journey was rather delightful for Cannon.

“The point of the Senior Games is the camaraderie at the Games and the wonder of making new friends,” said Chrissy Arnold, volunteer from Columbia/Boone County Public Health and Human Services.

Cannon said, for him, the Senior Games are not about winning the medal; it’s about being there, taking part in the Games with others.

“Even if I came here in sixth place, I would feel like I’m a winner,” Cannon said, “because I’m here.”

Supervising editor is Pete Bland.

Missouri children remain underserved in summer lunch programs

Missouri children remain underserved in summer lunch programs
Martha Schmid-Medina, 6, tries to avoid laughing while eating lunch June 7 at the Boys and Girls Club in Columbia. Children at the Boys and Girls Club got to chow down burgers before going about the rest of their summer activities. | Emil Lippe, The Columbia Missourian

COLUMBIA — When the kids from Armory Summer Camp get lunch at Douglass Park, they either walk there or get rides from their teachers.

Aries Rodriguez, 9, was one of seven campers who came to the park on a recent, breezy Tuesday.

“We walked here today,” Aries said. “I like coming here because we get to play when we’re done eating.”

Aries lined up with his friends in front of four coolers, excitedly chatting about lunch. Inside each white paper bag the volunteers handed out was a turkey sandwich, applesauce, carrots, a granola bar and a small carton of milk.

“I don’t like the applesauce,” Aries said. “My favorite is the sandwich.”

Around 20 children in the community, including Aries and his friends, ate the free lunch offered at Lunch in the Park last Tuesday. The program marks its 17th year this summer and runs from June 5 through Aug. 4 at Douglass Park from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. every weekday.

The program is open to any child younger than 18; however, not every kid in Missouri who needs a lunch is getting one.

Fewer than one in 10 Missouri children who qualify for free or discounted school lunches participated in summer nutrition programs like Lunch in the Park in July 2016, according to the Food Research and Action Center’s 2017 Summer Nutrition Status Report. If one in five kids in Missouri is “food uncertain,” according to the Missouri Hunger Atlas 2016 released by the MU Interdisciplinary Center for Food Security, then there’s a disconnect between the programs and the people who need them.

The free lunch programs have been offered for several years, but they suffer from a lack of visibility and public awareness. Laina Fullum, director of nutrition services at Columbia Public Schools, said the programs are usually promoted through posters in school buildings and pamphlets for parents who have children enrolled in certain schools.

Fullum said there have been few efforts to promote the free lunches to the community.

“What we do is make our managers post a couple of signs within the buildings so the people and the parents know that this is happening,” Fullum said, “because that’s where most of kids are going to be.”

Too far to walk

The absence of transportation is thought to be another cause for the low turnout for similar programs around the state.

Dana Doerhoff, director of school nutrition programs at the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, said without transportation it can be especially hard, if not impossible, for children to make it to the free lunch sites by themselves, which can be miles away.

In Columbia, 11 schools with free lunch programs operate a bus service only for their students to get to school. Children who are not enrolled and need a meal must walk or be given a ride to the school lunch sites. Nor is there transportation to free lunch sites in Columbia that are not based at schools.

Erin Harris, a nutrition supervisor at Columbia/Boone County Public Health and Human Services, said Lunch in the Park has been able to cover children in the Douglass Park neighborhood, but she still worries about kids who are farther than walking distance away.

“Most of them, I would say, walk,” Harris said. “But what about the kids that aren’t within walking? … The hope is that a lot of them will be in school. I really think that is the hope.”

Low participation

Lunch in the Park at Douglass is one of 19 free summer lunch locations for children in Columbia this year. They are open to any child younger than 18 years old. More than 40,000 lunches have been served through the program over the past 10 years.

Eight of the 19 sites, including Lunch in the Park, are operated by nonprofit sponsors — Boys & Girls Clubs of Columbia and the Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri — or a city department under the Summer Food Service Program. The other 11 are under the Seamless Summer Option, which is part of the National School Lunch Program and is based in school buildings during the summer.

The cost of the meals is reimbursed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture through two state departments: the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Department of Health and Senior Services.


According to the 2017 report from the Food Research and Action Center, Missouri’s average daily participation in the summer nutrition programs in July 2015 was 9.7, which means fewer than 10 out of 100 children eligible for free and reduced-price meals were served by the programs. The national average was 15 for the same period.

The state ranked 42nd in the country for its summer nutrition participation rate.

Limited accessibility

In Missouri, another decline in free lunch participation happens from June to July. In the summer of 2016, only 493,341 lunches were served in July under summer nutrition programs, which is less than a third of the total lunches served in June, 1.8 million.

Karen Wooton, food and nutrition services coordinator for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, said the gap might be related to summer school availability.

“Most of the time, summer school is going on in June, and they have the transportation to get to the schools,” Wooton said, “while in July, they don’t.”

This year in Columbia, only one Seamless Summer Option site, West Boulevard Elementary School, is offering free lunches throughout June and July. The other school locations are open in June while the summer schools are in session.

A Missouri mandate requires the Summer Food Service Program sites to be in areas that have 50 percent or more of residing children eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. The same eligibility applies to the Seamless Summer Option.

In October 2016, half of the total students in the National School Lunch Program were eligible for free or reduced-price lunches in Missouri. In Columbia, 44 percent of students enrolled in 33 Columbia Public Schools were qualified.

Stacey Brown, children’s program coordinator at the Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri, which is running five free lunch sites in Columbia this summer, said the organization has been trying to choose areas that are easily accessible for children and parents while meeting the state requirements.

“There are children that may not have a parent or an adult to bring them to a lunch site. So it should be accessible so that they can get there on their own,” Brown said.

Although there has long been a need for transportation to the summer meal sites for children who are not living in the neighborhood, the program sponsors have no solution to the problem this year.

Alternative ways to solve it are being explored in other parts of Missouri. One of them is the Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer for Children, which is a pilot USDA program that provides a $60 monthly benefit per child for families whose children are eligible for free and reduced-price meals. In the summer of 2012, more than 10,000 children in St. Louis and Kansas City areas received the benefit.

Wooton said there are no plans yet to implement that program in mid-Missouri.

In St. Louis, the nonprofit Operation Food Search has been distributing meals to hungry children via food truck-style vans since 2012. The mobile service helped increase children participation by 40 percent during the summer of 2015, according to its website.

A need for better advertising

Many participants in Lunch in the Park said they had not heard about the program before they came that day. Laura Darolia brought her two children, Kavi, 2, and Bodhi, 9 months, to the event for the first time on Tuesday.

“We had no idea this is happening,” Darolia said. “We just showed up today to play, and somebody invited us over to have lunch. We didn’t even see the sign.”

To engage residents more, the food bank has recently tried to use social media and spread the word through community events, the food bank’s director said.

“We did an outreach event a couple of weeks ago with our Kids Helping Kids Day and talked to the families that joined us for that,” Brown said. “We hope that that does the job of getting the word out.”

Organizers emphasize that it’s about more than food; it’s about outdoor time.

Aries was all about that. As soon as he finished his lunch, he stood up and ran to the playground with his friends to play football.

“(I’m excited about) the activities like where we get to make paintings and stuff,” Aries said. “I came here last year. I’ll be here tomorrow and mostly all weeks.”

Harris watched as they played football and sang Ruth B.’s “Lost Boy” together.

“It’s just wonderful to see them outdoors,” Harris said. “Each day, we try to have a group there that offers some type of activity. It’s more like an event and not just a meal.”

Harris said she wants to make sure that all the children in the community get a nutritious meal every day, even when they’re out of school.

“No children need to go without food,” Harris said.

Supervising editor is Katherine Reed.

Mail carriers contribute to food banks with Stamp Out Hunger drive

COLUMBIA — Every second Saturday of May, Lindell Lee, a letter carrier, goes on his route and fills up his bag — but not with envelopes.

Lee has been participating in the Stamp Out Hunger food drive, a one-day food drive led by the National Association of Letter Carriers, for 25 years. For Lee, the food drive has been a family event.

“My kids have been helping me since it started,” Lee said. “This year, my granddaughter was helping.”

The 25th edition of Stamp Out Hunger, the nation’s largest single-day food drive, was held in mid-Missouri on May 13. Lee was just one of many letter carriers and other residents who donated food and money to the Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri this year.

Lindsay Young Lopez, the food bank’s executive director, said she has seen fewer food donations but more money donations this year.

This year the food drive has brought in $59,750 to date, and money will continue to come in. The amount is already more than $8,000 greater than last year’s total of $51,636, Lopez said.

Meanwhile, the weight of food donated has declined from last year’s 171,965 pounds to 132,546 pounds this year. But Lopez said the difference has actually been to the food bank’s benefit.

“This year, we made an attempt to educate donors about the fact that we can take one dollar and turn that into $21 worth of food,” Lopez said.

The extra money donated will be turned into about 90,000 meals in Central and Northeast Missouri, including fresh food that donors couldn’t send through the mail, she said.

Lopez said the food and money collected in each county will be distributed to people within that same county.

“It stays local,” she said.

The Stamp Out Hunger food drive is one of three large-scale food drives organized by the food bank each year. Considering the months in which the events are held, Lopez said the May food drive significantly helps the food bank continue providing food for the 100,000 people it regularly serves.

“We have one that is before Thanksgiving and another one in mid-December,” she said. “That’s really when we take in the bulk of food and monetary contributions. We need to continually find ways to access resources.”

Lopez noted the contributions of letter carriers to this year’s outcome.

“We just are so grateful to the postal carriers,” she said. “They lead this food drive and are so invested in the mission of helping food banks to provide food to those who need it.”

Lee said he has seen more people participate since he started all those years ago. He also said he was grateful for the food bank’s efforts to help the community.

“I think the Columbia food bank does a tremendous job helping us and the city out to get this going,” Lee said. “Words can’t express it.”

Supervising editors are Sky Chadde and Hannah Black.

Two girls hospitalized with serious injuries after ATV crash

COLUMBIA — Two girls were taken to University Hospital after a severe all-terrain vehicle crash on Thursday afternoon.

According to a Missouri State Highway Patrol crash report, Maura Vanskyike, 12, was driving a 2014 Honda Rancher on Old Route A with Lexi Benedict, 9, as a passenger. The accident occurred when Maura over-corrected the vehicle while negotiating a curve, causing the ATV to overturn and throw both her and Lexi from the vehicle.

Maura was flown by helicopter to University Hospital, and Lexi was taken by ambulance after the Highway Patrol received a report of the crash at 12:50 p.m. Thursday.

Jennifer Coffman, spokeswoman for University of Missouri Health Care*, said Saturday morning that Maura was in fair condition and Lexi had been discharged.

Neither girl was wearing a helmet or a seat belt when the crash happened, Highway Patrol Trooper Nicholas March, who was dispatched to the scene, said. March said the ATV lacked seat belts.

It was unclear whether parents were watching the girls operating the ATV. March said parents were at the site of the accident when he got there, but he was unsure whether the girls were being supervised.

March said the accident remained under investigation.

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.