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Missouri children remain underserved in summer lunch programs

Missouri children remain underserved in summer lunch programs
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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.

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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.

Witness to Cameron Caruthers shooting provides account of the event

COLUMBIA — A witness to the shooting death of Cameron Caruthers on May 22 in northeast Columbia said the incident was not the result of a home invasion but of a dispute.

“He shouldn’t have been shot,” said Kelsy Poore, 31, who had been in a relationship with Caruthers and lived with him and Rick Gurley, the man who has been questioned by Columbia Police in connection with Caruthers’ death.

The three shared a house at 1304 Dawn Ridge Road where, police say, Caruthers, 28, was shot on May 22. He died later that day at University Hospital. The incident was initially described in a police news release as a home invasion, but in a second statement on May 23 police described the episode as a “disturbance between two people known to each other.”

No one has been arrested in connection with Caruthers’ death.

Poore spoke firmly Wednesday afternoon, just a few hours after Caruthers’ funeral, as she gave her account of what happened the day he died.

“When it happened, there were just the three of us — me, Cameron and Rick,” Poore said. “It was not a home invasion. (Caruthers) had lived there with me for a couple of months.”

Poore said she had been in a relationship with Caruthers since February of this year. She moved into the house in March after being introduced to Gurley through an acquaintance when she was looking for a place for her and her three children to live. A few weeks later, Caruthers joined her.

She recalled Gurley and Caruthers getting along well.

“There’s been no conflict with Rick… He had no problem with him (Caruthers) moving in,” Poore said. “He and Rick had hung out several nights, sitting out on our front porch.”

The incident

The night before the shooting, she and Caruthers had a disagreement, and Caruthers left the house for the night.

Poore said it was a common occurrence. They fought sometimes. She said Caruthers, a veteran of the war in Iraq, had symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Poore said he sometimes had paranoid episodes.

The next morning, Caruthers came back to the house to gather some of his belongings. Poore had offered to give Caruthers’ things directly to him, but he wanted Gurley to mediate the exchange.

Caruthers’ friend, Dakota Kelsey, had given him a ride to the house. But when Kelsey noticed Caruthers growing irritated, he persuaded Caruthers to leave with him.

The whole disagreement lasted less than 10 minutes, Poore said. Kelsey corroborated that statement, saying he didn’t want any part of the situation.

“It wasn’t five minutes later I get a message from Dakota that Cameron had jumped out of the moving truck to come back,” Poore said. She received the text message at 11:31 a.m.

When Caruthers arrived at the residence the second time, he and Gurley spoke through the front door. Poore said she could not hear what was said.

At that point, Gurley already had his 12-gauge shotgun in his hands, Poore said. Both Poore and Kelsey said Caruthers was unarmed.

“Cameron had said several times: ‘Put the gun down, come outside, and talk to me like a man. I’m not armed,’” Poore said. He turned out his pockets and lifted his shirt to show Gurley he had no weapons hidden, she said.

But Gurley would not come out of the house, Poore said.

So Caruthers raised his hands above his head and, trying to de-escalate the situation, said in a resigned voice: “I’m coming in. You’re just going to have to shoot me, Rick.”

As Poore turned to look at Caruthers, the shot was fired, she said.

Stephen Wyse, Gurley’s attorney in connection to the case, confirmed in an interview with the Missourian on Wednesday that Gurley was there when the shooting took place. He would not say who used force at the scene, and he disputed whether Caruthers was actually living in the house.

Wyse said: “The use of force was justified.”

Poore said that immediately after the shooting Gurley picked up his phone and pushed one button to reach the 911 center.

Ongoing investigation

According to the most recent Columbia Police news release, there were two men in the house when officers arrived after receiving the call at 12:12 p.m. on Monday, May 22. Poore had left.

She was afraid for her safety, she said. “I thought: ‘If I go against the grain right now, I will be laying here with Cameron,’” Poore said. “What looks bad in the situation is the fact that I fled the scene, but I panicked.”

Poore said she was stopped at the end of the street by police, but they told her she could leave. She went to police headquarters later that day to give her account of what transpired.

Gurley also was questioned but was released, Wyse said. “I think law enforcement made the right decision not to make an arrest,” he said.

Thursday, Columbia Police Public Information Officer Latisha Stroer said she couldn’t provide any updates on the case.

Funeral

Caruthers’ funeral was held Wednesday morning at Parkade Baptist Church. More than 100 people attended, including some of the paratroopers Caruthers served with, family members and friends.

A procession led by five motorcycles traveled to Memorial Park Cemetery after the funeral, where Caruthers was buried.

Poore said she had been waiting until the funeral was over to speak up for Caruthers’ family’s sake.

Poore said she first intended not to speak to the news media but has since changed her mind. Because she said she is the only witness to what happened, she feels responsible for making sure the truth is known.

“It has been a whirlwind of rumors and people fabricating the crazy stories,” Poore said. “I feel like Cameron’s side needs to be told.”

Supervising editors are Katherine Reed and Scott Swafford.

Historical figures share their stories at Columbia Cemetery

COLUMBIA — As a cool breeze blew through the trees at the Columbia Cemetery, John “Blind” Boone stood at his grave with a deprecating smile for the crowd of roughly 20 that had gathered to hear him speak.

“I wish you guys could have heard me play,” he said. “I would have made you smile.”

The crowd did smile.

On Monday afternoon, eight historical figures were brought back to life by local actors at Columbia Cemetery. The actors each performed original monologues, written by Chris Campbell, JJ Musgrove and Kate Musgrove, at the grave sites of the characters they portrayed.

Lorne Jackman portrayed Blind Boone for the event, clad in black slacks, a white button-down, a gold and black patterned vest and a thick black overcoat in the 80-degree heat and bright sunshine.

Portraying the famous concert pianist, who lost his eyesight as a baby, proved to be enjoyable for the former high school actor turned deputy marshal.

“When people were laughing, I figured I wasn’t doing too bad,” said Jackman, who had to have his eyes closed for the entire monologue.

Jackman was surprised by the turnout for the event. As he watched a large crowd of audience members approaching the site of the musician’s grave, he joked with those already sitting there that he hoped the people were going to walk right past him.

“That was scary,” he said after his first of four performances. “I was hoping they would move on to another guy, but they decided to stay here.”

Talking Horse Productions founder and actor Ed Hanson portrayed MU’s first president, John Lathrop.

“I was really drawn to Lathrop because I was a teacher for 28 years,” he said. “I thought it was fascinating that he was sort of duped into coming to Columbia to be the president of a university that didn’t even exist (yet).”

Lathrop wasn’t the only MU figure represented. County Circuit Judge Kevin Crane played George Swallow, the first dean of the MU College of Agriculture.

“I try to project a guy that would (have been) difficult to handle from an administrative standpoint but was a good teacher,” Crane said. “It’s fun. Of course I’ve worried about it, you know, you worry about screwing up or drawing a blank or something. But once you get going, it works out alright.”

Nollie Moore portrayed MU journalism school founder Walter Williams. He delivered his monologue with an assuredness he said he derived from Williams’ personality.

“He, just to me, sort of embodies confidence,” said Moore. “And for me it was more about telling his story and less about creating a character.”

Beth and Gary Stangler, who both graduated from MU, said they learned a lot from the monologues.

“I know Swallow Hall. I know Hawkins Gentry School. I never give thoughts to why they were named after what they were,” Gary Stangler said. “It evokes a lot of connecting the dots.”

The Stanglers said they love coming to cemeteries and learning about what happened decades ago.

The Columbia Cemetery is the oldest continuous business in the city and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Friends of the Historic Columbia Cemetery was founded in 2016 to support it. This marks the first year they have put on the monologues.

The organizers were surprised by the turnout — they had only printed 450 programs. They ran out before the event’s conclusion and ended up recycling programs from attendees who were leaving for people arriving later. Organizers estimate over 800 people showed up for the event.

“We just wanted to show off Columbia and its roots,” said Cindy Mustard, a cemetery board member and one of the event’s organizers.

Ed Hanson thinks events like this are important for the community.

“We have a lot of cultural offerings for Columbia, but we don’t have a lot of cultural offerings that are about Columbia,” he said.

The Friends of the Historic Columbia Cemetery hopes to continue the monologues next year. More stories remain buried in the cemetery’s 35 acres of land.

Supervising editor is John Sadler.

Historical aircraft come to Columbia to celebrate veterans

COLUMBIA — The “Vampire” soared and flashed across the clear morning sky above the Columbia Regional Airport tarmac. The world’s first single jet fighter made an ear-splitting noise at the speed of 450 mph, leaving a distinct vapor trail behind. It then descended rapidly toward the crowd who stood gaping at the scene.

The historical aircraft that was used in World War II returned for the 29th Salute to Veterans Airshow on Saturday.

Jerry Conley, a former member of the U.S. Air Force and owner of the jet, said this is the second time he has flown the D.H. 100, nicknamed Vampire, at the air show.

“Every time I fly Vampire, it feels like I fly it for the first time,” Conley said. “She’s my girlfriend.”

Conley first started flying airplanes when he was 16. Later, he served in the Air Force for six years until 1984. He said he loves performing at the air show for veterans like himself and honoring them.

“Vampire is the first and it’s historic,” Conley said. “I like kids to see what has changed in the last 70 years.”

The air show began at 9 a.m. in the sunshine at Columbia Regional Airport. Hundreds of people came from all around the country to commemorate and remember the ultimate sacrifice of veterans.

The U.S. Army Special Operations Parachute Team, called the Black Daggers, raised the curtain of the event. The team made its first appearance at the air show since 2006.

After several minutes of the “Seahawk” keenly ascending and plummeting above the crowd, the Black Daggers jumped out of the aircraft from 8,000 feet up in the air. A 1,000-square-foot flag reading “POW/MIA” was attached to the falling members.

Black Daggers member Sean O’Toole said they brought this special flag to honor and remember fallen soldiers, prisoners of war and those missing-in-action.

The demonstrations were paused around 11 a.m. to pay tribute to the honored guests and veterans from World War I to the present.

Retired U.S. Navy Reserve Com. Willis Rief was one of the 10 honored guests. Rief served in the Navy for 20 years, including eight years of active duty and 12 years in the reserves. This was his first time at the air show and marked a special moment in his life.

“I know two of the other honored guests. We happened to be in the same Navy squadron together like 35 years ago, and for one of them it’s the first time I’ve been reunited with him,” Rief said. “So it’s a real treat for me personally on that aspect.”

Rief, who is now in his 60s, said he enjoyed meeting all the young people serving the military.

“The cadets and the drill team are very young people that are going to be our future people doing what I did and (what) people are currently doing,” Rief said. “It’s a very encouraging sight to see.”

Visitors with children enjoyed the kid-friendly atmosphere of the event. Lucy Heritage, 5, appeared excited to see the jets going by on the tarmac. Lucy said she came to the airport with her family including her grandparents and two younger siblings.

“This is my second time. I was here a long time ago. This time, my grandparents came here to visit America from Australia. That’s who I came with,” Lucy said.

Her mother, Treva Heritage, said the first time she saw the Canadian air performance has made her come back to the air show every year.

“The first time we came, they had the Snowbirds. That brings us back every year hoping to see them again. We’ve come here three years in a row and will also next year,” Heritage said.

The air show was stopped around 12:30 p.m. due to inclement weather. All later performances were canceled, including the demonstration of the U.S. Navy F-18 Super Hornet.

Jessica Houston, media chair of Salute to Veterans, said they will reschedule aircraft features on Sunday that could not be run Saturday. The Canadian Armed Forces Parachute Team, known as the SkyHawks, also had to cancel their performance due to mechanical problems with the plane they had borrowed from the U.S. Air Force.

“Hopefully the T-33 will get to fly, which is a crowd favorite from a couple of years ago,” Huston said. “And we’re closing with the Navy TACDEMO Team, F-18 Super Hornet.”

Even though the event had to be cut short, Houston said that the airshow was still a success.

“We still accomplished our purpose and we were able to make it through that salute to the nation ceremony,” Houston said. “We were able to thank our veterans. Still a lot of beautiful hours in there.”

The Salute to Veterans Airshow will be open to the public again from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday at the Columbia Regional Airport.

Man hospitalized with gunshot wound after apparent home invasion

 

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Moez Aschi talks with police officers in front of 1304 Dawn Ridge Road, where the shooting involving one injured victim happened Monday afternoon. Aschi said he purchased the house from an auction in April and received a call from his friend about the incident before he arrived at the scene at 3 p.m. Monday. | Jiwon Choi

 

COLUMBIA — A man was shot in a home invasion at 1304 Dawn Ridge Road around noon Monday.

Columbia Police found two men in the home when they arrived at the house, which is in northeast Columbia off Clark Lane. One of the men had been shot in the lower abdomen, and his injury was considered life-threatening, according to a Columbia Police Department news release.

The Police Department did not release the names of either men. It was not clear from the release whether the victim was the homeowner or an intruder.

The gunshot victim was taken to University Hospital, and the other was detained for questioning.

Moez Aschi, who was standing in front of the house Monday afternoon, said that he had purchased the house in an auction in April and that it was supposed to be vacated within two weeks. He said he had visited the house three times before and whenever he visited, there were far too many people in the house.

Christine Knipfel, a next-door neighbor, said she saw four men standing on the porch of the house yelling at each other Monday morning.

“I heard the loud voices, but I heard nothing (like a shooting),” she said.

Police are asking for anyone with information to contact CrimeStoppers at 875-8477.

This story will be updated as more information becomes available.

Supervising editor is Katherine Reed.