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An Effort to Bring More MN Children to the Lunch Table

June 17, 2008

Minneapolis, MN – Out of school means out of luck for thousands of kids who get free or reduced-price meals at school during nine months of the year. A federal program designed to bridge the summer vacation gap between semesters does exist, but the state doesn't take sufficient advantage of it, Minnesota FoodShare Director Barbara Thell contends.

"Currently, the state of Minnesota is serving just about 15 percent of the children who are eligible to participate in the summer meal program. That's only 28,000 students."

Compared to other states, that puts Minnesota in 31st place nationally. It also puts more demand on food shelves from families who are having a hard time affording groceries with children at home for the summer. Thell says kids need adequate nutrition - not just on school days, but year round.

"If children don't eat well during the summer, if they're not active and involved in things, they can lose a lot of energy - and can end up actually being behind when they start school again in the fall. It's very important that they have a good, solid nutritional base, and that's exactly what these meals provide. They must meet certain guidelines in terms of good nutrition, and they're geared for the ages of the children they serve. "

Across the state, 300 sites offer summer meals. However, Thell explains, that's not enough to serve all who are eligible. Efforts are under way to attract more meal program sponsors in order to bring another 50,000 kids to the table -- literally.

"We're just telling people, if there are youth in their area who are eligible, to find a location and try to get them involved in having healthy meals. If there are organizations that would like to be sponsors next year, the Minnesota State Department of Education has training and all kinds of information available on its website, so they can find out more about being an actual sponsor of the program."

Information about local sponsor sites is available by dialing 211, although Thell cautions that this number cannot be reached from a cellular phone. It also is available online at www.gmcc.org/foodshare/summerfood.html.

Jim Wishner/Eric Mack, Public News Service - MN