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More WA Children Eating Free Summer Meals

PHOTO: Washington is feeding more low-income children in summer meal programs, but only 10 percent of kids who qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches also receive free summer meals. Photo credit: iStockphoto.com.
PHOTO: Washington is feeding more low-income children in summer meal programs, but only 10 percent of kids who qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches also receive free summer meals. Photo credit: iStockphoto.com.
June 10, 2013

SEATTLE - More low-income children in Washington are getting the free summer meals that help their families stretch food dollars, although a new report from the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) says many more could be served. It says more than 342,000 children get free or reduced-price lunches in Washington schools, but only about 33,000 receive the free summer meals.

One dilemma is that summer food is often tied to summer school or other enrichment programs. Crystal FitzSimons, FRAC director of school and out-of-school-time programs, says budget cuts have trimmed many of those programs.

"The programs are not serving all of the kids that they should," explains FitzSimons. "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."

Another challenge she identified is making the meal sites convenient for families, especially in rural areas. Washington added 65 summer meal sites in 2012, and fed 5 percent more children at more than 700 locations.

According to the report, about half the states fed fewer children last summer. Yet FitzSimons says her organization knows that the need has increased, based on what it has seen during the school year.

"The summer nutrition programs have not responded to the increased need that has been caused by the recession and its aftermath," she says. "Hundreds of thousands of additional kids are participating in school lunch, and we don't see the same increase in the summer food program."

For every 100 children who receive free or reduced-price meals at school in Washington, only 10 get summer meals. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has made it a goal this summer to increase the meals served by 5 million, nationwide.

The full report is online at frac.org.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA