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More Need but Fewer Kids at Utah Summer Meal Programs

PHOTO: Only 12 out of 100 children who qualify for free or reduced-price meals during the school year in Utah also receive summer meals. Photo credit: iStockphoto.com.
PHOTO: Only 12 out of 100 children who qualify for free or reduced-price meals during the school year in Utah also receive summer meals. Photo credit: iStockphoto.com.
June 10, 2013

SALT LAKE CITY - Fewer Utah families are taking advantage of free summer meals available for their children. A new report from the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) said 166,000 Utah children get free or reduced-price lunches at school, but fewer than 20,000 receive the free summer meals. One dilemma is that summer food is often tied to summer school - and when that ends in July, so does the meal program.

Utahns Against Hunger Executive Director Gina Cornia points out that in some areas, such as San Juan County, summer school has been cut altogether, for budget reasons.

"They used to have a really great summer food program," says Cornia. "Then, a couple of years ago, they quit doing summer school, and we haven't been able to get summer food back on track. We have some of the poorest kids in the poorest part of the state who don't have access to summer meals."

The report says about half the states saw fewer children receiving summer meals in 2012 compared with 2011, which runs counter to the increased need that is being seen during the school year. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has made it a goal to increase the meals served this summer by 5 million, nationwide.

Crystal FitzSimons, FRAC director of School and Out-of-School-Time Programs, adds that another challenge is making the meal sites convenient for families.

"Transportation is one of the big barriers for the summer nutrition programs," FitzSimons says. "It is harder in communities that are rural to get kids to and from summer sites. It can be hard even in some urban areas, where transportation might be limited."

In some communities across the country, summer meals are "going mobile," combined with library bookmobiles or local "Meals On Wheels" programs. However, that also takes funding and a dedicated base of volunteers.

Summer food sites around Utah are listed on the Utahns Against Hunger website, www.uah.org.

The full report is online at http://frac.org.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - UT