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Nutrition "Summertime Blues" for Thousands of Minnesota Kids

July 25, 2007

A new report from the Food Research and Action Center finds about 26,000 Minnesota kids are participating in summer nutrition programs, which is fewer than half of those eligible. Barbara Thell with Minnesota FoodShare says that puts us in 36th place nationally -- nothing to be proud of.

"It's disturbing because in the summertime, we also see food shelves throughout the state receive a lot of requests for extra food because the children are not receiving school meals."

The report finds only 13 percent of low income Minnesota children have access to summer meal programs. She notes that, while Minnesota food shelves can help make up some of the summer vacation school meal gap, demand is increasing, and they're struggling to keep up.

Thell believes that part of the reason for the lack of summer meals programs is bureaucracy.

"Several years ago, legislators in D.C. worked on a 'simplified option,' which would reduce paperwork for those people who want to sponsor summer lunch programs. There are about 20 states in that program now. And, the House has just introduced legislation that would make all states a 'simplified summer state.' That would include Minnesota."

She adds that states with a "simplified" process for setting up summer meals programs have seen participation increase. And, if Minnesota were included, it would bring three million dollars yearly into the state to help provide nutrition to low-income kids.

Thell emphasizes that kids' health and well-being are at stake.

"We have reports throughout the state of even teenagers or pre-teens who are normal weight, losing weight throughout the summer and coming back to school underweight. It just is not good because their developmental needs are not met, and they start the school year out behind. It's very, very important that they have proper nutrition in order to learn, to pay attention in school and not be disruptive."

The report is at www.frac.org. Minnesota summer food sites are listed at www.gmcc.org/foodshare/summerfood.html.

Jim Wishner/Eric Mack, Public News Service - MN