Blaine County’s free summer food program reached a record number of kids this season, topping last year’s total by nearly 25 percent.

When it wrapped up last week, the Bloom Truck—a collaboration between The Hunger Coalition and The Community Library targeting isolated areas of the county—served up nearly 5,000 free lunches to 311 kids over the course of summer break.

That’s a new high for the four-year program, topping last year’s total by 700 meals, about 16 percent, in two fewer weeks of vacation.

At its core, the Bloom Truck is designed to supplement the School District’s federally sponsored free- and reduced-lunch program, which feeds students during the academic year. But the telltale orange trailer—part commercial kitchen, part lending library—has grown beyond that. In 2019, it partnered with 21 other local groups to bring books, events and a welcome routine to the four locations it visits twice a week.

“A lot of these kids, they’ll probably never go to summer camp,” said Sloan Storey, program coordinator at The Hunger Coalition. “This is their activity.”

For Storey and DeAnn Campbell of The Community Library—the duo that spearheads the program—the boost comes down to trust and familiarity, as much as need.

“We’re calling it our ‘Superbloom,’” Campbell said. “Like anything, it takes time for momentum to build. Now, it’s becoming a hub in these neighborhoods—exactly the kind of community vibe we were hoping for.”

That’s been happening in Carey since the beginning. A town with no grocery store and a limited library, parents schedule days—and move commitments—to meet the truck. In a town of maybe 600 people, around 100 met the truck during its first trip in June, Campbell said.

“It felt like the entire town,” Storey said. “In Carey, that’s the thing you do on those days.”

That feeling—as well as a number of those regular Carey participants—has spread to other sites: Bellevue City Park, the Balmoral apartments and The Meadows mobile-home park.

There, Campbell said, parents are likely to work weekdays, leaving kids to spend large chunks of time alone, and indoors.

“They’re by themselves all day,” she said. “We targeted isolation, to make sure they could access food, books and engagement.”

Those places also tend to be some of the most insular neighborhoods around. Trust, Storey said, is capital—and after years of outreach, it’s compounding with interest.

This year, the truck also brought out interns from local high schools—which in turn brought out more kids, and a wider range of age groups.

As the truck becomes a regular fact of summer life, Campbell and Storey said, they hope older participants turn out, too.

“Bloom is for everybody,” Storey said.

(For proof, take the 46 adults who bought lunch—at $1 a meal—this season.)

Next year, they expect demand to grow even more.

“Basically, we want like five more Bloom Trucks,” Campbell said. “There are a lot of kids out there.

“It’s a unique concept—I don’t know of any other place that has all those things coupled together. And it’s just fun. If you ever need a good day, go hang out at the Bloom Truck. It’s pure joy.”

Email the writer: mdee@mtexpress.com

Load comments