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Report: Montana Summer Meal Program Attendance Coming Up Short

PHOTO: The number of low-income Montana children receiving free summer meals has dropped, even as the number nationwide has risen. Photo credit: iStockphoto.com.
PHOTO: The number of low-income Montana children receiving free summer meals has dropped, even as the number nationwide has risen. Photo credit: iStockphoto.com.
June 10, 2013

HELENA, Mont. - Fewer Montana families are taking advantage of free summer meals available for their children. A new report from the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) says 46,000 Montana children get free or reduced-price lunches at school, but fewer than 7000 receive the free summer meals, and the number receiving summer food has declined by 12 percent over a year.

According to Crystal FitzSimons, director of school and out-of-school-time programs with FRAC, one of the challenges is making the meal sites convenient for families.

"Transportation is one of the big barriers for programs designed to kids in congregant settings, and it is harder in communities that are rural to get kids to and from summer sites," she said.

FitzSimons said that if there were more summer activities for kids, there would be more potential sites to serve them nutritious meals.

"The programs are not serving all of the kids that they should, and part of the big problem - and this is true in urban, suburban and rural areas - is that there are not enough summer programs for low-income children to keep them safe, engaged and active during the summer months," she asserted.

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's being seen during the school year. The USDA has made it a goal this summer to increase the meals served by 5 million nationwide.

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

Summer food sites in Montana are listed at the Montana Office of Public Instruction website.

That FRAC report is at FRAC.org.

Deborah Courson Smith/Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - MT