By Rebekah Gaston, Staff Attorney, Child Hunger Initiative, Kansas Appleseed Center for Law and Justice
Nearly one-half of Kansas public school students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches at school this year; every school day, 180,000 Kansas kids eat a free or reduced-price lunch through the National School Lunch Program. Many of those kids also receive a free or reduced-price breakfast through the School Breakfast Program. But during the three months of summer break, those programs aren’t available to provide the consistent nutrition students get at school.
The Summer Food Service Program was created to fill the meal gap between the end of one school year and the start of another, and it’s flexible enough that meals can be served in almost any place kids go during the summer. Many summer meals sites serve no-cost meals to kids at schools, libraries, swimming pools, churches, camps and apartment complexes. The organizations running the programs are reimbursed for meals they serve.
In Kansas, we ranked 48th in the nation for feeding kids through the Summer Food Service Program in 2013. We had 365 sites serving meals to Kansas kids, but we still only served lunches to around 7 percent of the kids who regularly ate a free or reduced-price lunch during the school year. In 44 of the 105 counties in Kansas, there was not a single summer meals site in 2014.
To help more Kansas kids access nutritious meals in the summer, Kansas Appleseed partnered with the Kansas Health Foundation and the Kansas Department of Education to host the 2015 Kansas Summer Meals Summit in Wichita on January 26. Presenters touched on four main strategies to achieve the goal of increasing the number of meals served to Kansas kids: (1) increase the number of summer meal sites throughout Kansas, especially in those counties with no sites, (2) offer more meals each week by serving two meals per day and serving 5 to 7 days per week, (3) offer additional services like transportation and activities before or after meals and (4) improve outreach efforts to ensure children and parents have accurate information about the locations of meal sites.
At the conclusion of the Summit, attendees identified a need for community-wide partnerships to identify where sites should be located, when meals should be served and how sites should be promoted to Kansas families. Those partnerships will be the key to providing more meals to more Kansas kids this summer. Every one of us can do something to help more Kansas kids access meals this summer: we can be sponsors who run programs, we can volunteer at sites or we can help spread the word about summer meal programs to families in our communities. Seven percent is not enough.
For more information about the Summer Food Service Program in Kansas, visit the Kansas Department of Education’s SFSP page at http://www.kn-eat.org/SFSP/SFSP_Menus/SFSP_Home.htm.
When parents and school leaders work together, school wellness — that environment in which every child can access good nutrition and regular physical activity — is realistic and achievable.