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Efforts Under Way to Get Summer Meals to More Utah Kids

PHOTO: More than 163,000 children in Utah receive free or reduced-price meals during the school year. But in the summer, that number drops to less than 19,000. Efforts are under way to change that. Photo courtesy letsmove.gov.
PHOTO: More than 163,000 children in Utah receive free or reduced-price meals during the school year. But in the summer, that number drops to less than 19,000. Efforts are under way to change that. Photo courtesy letsmove.gov.
June 11, 2014

SALT LAKE CITY - Several organizations are to gather today with the goal of getting more Utah children involved with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Summer Food Service Program.

Marti Woolford, a child nutrition advocate with Utahns Against Hunger is among those participating in a kick-off at the Salt Lake City Main Library to promote the program. She said only about one in 10 kids who eat free or reduced-priced meals during the school year take advantage of a summer food program in their area.

"It doesn't always get to the kids that need it because their families aren't aware of it," she said. "What we do at Utahans Against Hunger is, we do outreach - give out as much information in as many different formats as possible, so that families know the program's available."

According to a national report, the average daily participation for summer meals in Utah was down more than 6 percent in 2013 from 2012 - although Woolford said the Summer Food Service Program is offered at more than 120 sites around the state, including many public schools.

Children who don't get enough to eat tend to have greater struggles with learning, she said, and also can have behavioral and health issues.

"They have more visits to the hospital on average," Woolford said. "And then, you're more prone to just not feeling well and to catching viruses that are going around as well."

Woolford said research shows that one in four Utahns experiences "food hardship," meaning at some point within the past 12 months, that person did not have enough money to buy the food they needed.

The summer meal report is from the Food Research and Action Center, frac.org.

Troy Wilde, Public News Service - UT