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Free Program Feeds Hungry Kids All Summer

Free summer meals are available to kids younger than age 18 at schools, libraries, community centers and other locations. (USDA/Flickr)
Free summer meals are available to kids younger than age 18 at schools, libraries, community centers and other locations. (USDA/Flickr)
July 8, 2016

NEW YORK - School may be out for the summer, but kids who rely on free and reduced-price meals at school don't have to go hungry. The federally funded Summer Food Service Program fills the food gap when schools are closed.

In the five boroughs, said Triada Stampas, vice president for research and public affairs at the Food Bank For New York City, the program is open to all children, providing two free meals a day at locations throughout the city.

"With summer meals, there is no enrollment form, no identification, no documentation required to participate," she said. "It really is open to any child, 18 and under."

Free summer meals are available to children across the state, although some locations may have eligibility requirements. Parents can locate the nearest site by calling 311 in New York City or 211 in the rest of the state. However, many families aren't aware of the program, and Stampas said the Food Bank sees a spike in the number of children relying on other food services in the summer.

"So, we know that families that struggle to put food on the table have a harder time when school is out," she said, "because their reliance on a food pantry or soup kitchen tends to increase."

When the Food Bank surveyed people using food pantries and soup kitchens, they found two-thirds were not taking advantage of the summer meals program for children, and most didn't even know about it.

As with free meals in schools, food provided through the summer meals program must meet U.S. Department of Agriculture standards for nutrition. According to Stampas, research has shown that gaps in nutrition can have long-term consequences for kids.

"Poor nutrition can show up as obesity, as diminished academic achievement," she said. "It can turn up as diminished health on a number of indicators."

She said Summer Food Service Program meals are available until schools open again in September.

More information is online at fns.usda.gov.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - NY