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Efforts Expand to Keep Illinois Kids Fed This Summer

PHOTO: Rockford, Peoria and Waukegan are among the Illinois communities the USDA is targeting to add additional free summer meal sites for children from lower-income families. Photo credit: Michael S. Richter via Morguefile.
PHOTO: Rockford, Peoria and Waukegan are among the Illinois communities the USDA is targeting to add additional free summer meal sites for children from lower-income families. Photo credit: Michael S. Richter via Morguefile.
May 19, 2014

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - For kids, summer should be a time of carefree fun, but there are thousands of children in Illinois who spend their days worrying about when they will eat next.

During the school year, thousands of children from lower-income families rely on free or reduced-priced breakfast and lunch at school, yet last year in Illinois, only 11 percent of those children participated in summer meal programs.

Audrey Rowe, administrator, USDA Food and Nutrition Service, says her agency is expanding efforts to reduce childhood hunger when school is out.

According to Rowe, "When we looked at the participation rate between last year and the year before, we made a determination that in Illinois, particularly the seven southernmost Illinois counties, poverty has increased, food insecurity has increased."

Illinois is one of several states being targeted in a national effort to add more meal sites for the Summer Food Program. Rowe recently met with school, community, and anti-hunger leaders in Chicago to develop solutions and set up more sites, including partnerships with faith-based organizations and mobile feeding sites.

Rowe says the local organizations she's talked with in Illinois seem eager to improve children's access to summer meals.

"People are stepping up and saying, 'Okay, there's gaps here - we can put a site in that location.' And thus far, no one says no," says Rowe. "Everyone makes it very clear that they really want to help, and that's what's so exciting."

Beyond providing technical assistance for the expansion, Rowe adds they are trying to engage community members about the gap in meal participation and the need to reduce it.

"That's really our bottom line for this summer feeding effort," she explains. "We want to make sure that there is no kid hungry, that we are feeding all of America's children who need to have access to summer feeding."

Nationally, during the school year, 31 million children from lower-income families receive free or reduced priced meals. In the summer, the number drops to less than 3.5 million.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - IL