Several States Feeding Low-Income Kids Through Summer Meal Programs


Martin County, Florida is generally a wealthy county, yet 47% of students there are eligible for free or reduced lunch. For that reason, the Martin County School District’s Summer Food Program has partnered with summer schools and open school sites across the county to supply free breakfasts, lunches, and snacks during the summer months right up to the time school begins in August, reports the Palm Beach Post.

Tina Jenson, Martin County School District’s Food and Nutrition Field Supervisor Trainer, says unlike the free or reduced lunches provided to families that qualify as low- or low-to-medium income, the Summer Food Program has no qualifications to be met.

“The reason why the summer meals are so important for those children is that, once school is out, their meals may not be available to them,” Jensen said. “We are trying to reach anyone and everyone that is in need. We are going above and beyond to feed as many children as possible. If children are not fed, they cannot learn, they cannot grow. There is so much wrapped around food and we don’t want any child to be food insecure.”

Since Jenson has been in the food service business for over 20 years, she knows low-income kids can feel insecure about where their next meal will be coming from. She is also aware that there are those who do not agree and do not recognize food insecurity as a problem.

Jenson shared that between 1,800 and 2,000 children will be fed thanks to the summer program. She adds that the food served will be healthy.

“The Summer Food Program has really blossomed. I mean, they didn’t have this when I had kids in school almost 20 years ago. It’s such a wonderful program. I think the biggest change is the way the food is delivered to the students,” Jensen said. “We take a lot of pride in our students, our No. 1 goal is their health and nutrition. Our dietitian here in Martin County is phenomenal and she maintains a great menu for the kids’ health.”

North Carolina is taking care of meals for students through the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina’s Summer Meals Program, according to WRAL-TV’s Leyla Santiago. The service will feed 6,000 children with 200,000 meals through 135 locations where children will receive the meals at no cost.

Not only food is on the menu — the program will also offer enrichment activities such as exercise and reading.

“The Kids Summer Meals Program provides a vital resource to thousands of kids each summer who may not have enough food to eat at home,” said Tyler Weidig, Summer Food Services Program supervisor for the food bank. “Without this program, children would be hungry and families would be forced to make tough budget decisions.”

Although the First Lady had the best intentions, Michelle Obama’s Healthy, Hungry-Free Kids Act of 2010 is being criticized for inedible meals, food waste, and misspent funds, write Julie Kelly and Jeff Stier for The Wall Street Journal. One principal said that students do not eat the free, healthy meals at school and are hungry during the school day. At the end of the day, the kids rush to purchase unhealthy foods which the school lunches were established to replace.

Some inner-city school districts are delivering free food to students during the summer. Bertrand Weber, the Minneapolis Public School District’s nutrition director, is asking for over $6 million to offer the service to the entire district. The healthy food is delivered to area parks, but it may not be the food the kids are interested in eating.

Almost 20% of parents with school-age children in Massachusetts are anxious when school is dismissed for the summer because they do not know how they are going to feed their kids during summer months, writes Alex Ruppenthal of the Malden Observer. During the school year, they know their kids will get one or two meals each school day because of the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program. For these programs, a family of four with a total income of $44,000 or less qualifies.

But Massachusetts districts are finding ways to alleviate those concerns. In Salem, the Summer Food Program serves one or two free meals at parks, schools, pools, community centers, low-income housing complexes, libraries, YMCAs, and recreation centers, explains Deborah Jeffers, food service director for Salem Public Schools.

In Malden, the school district is using grants to offer new activities at meal sites, like reading days and visiting the city’s firefighters. Gloucester students also participated in growing peas and carrots as part of the program, which helps children be a part of their healthy eating program.