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Missouri Making Strides Toward Feeding Hungry Kids

Experts say children who get regular meals over the summer will do better when school starts back up in the fall. Credit: keyseeker/morguefile.com
Experts say children who get regular meals over the summer will do better when school starts back up in the fall. Credit: keyseeker/morguefile.com
June 4, 2015

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – School is almost out for the summer, but it's not all fun and games for Missouri families that rely on school meals to stretch their food dollars.

A new report shows the state is making progress in connecting low-income children with meals over the summer.

The Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) research shows that participation in the Summer Nutrition Program was up nearly 23 percent last summer compared to 2013.

Jeanette Mott Oxford, executive director of the social justice group Empower Missouri, says while there are still far too many children going hungry, every bit of progress is good news for all Missourians.

"We all pay if children are going hungry,” she stresses. “There's a cost to all of us. When we improve in these categories, it means that the whole community is healthier."

The Summer Nutrition Program provides free meals to children under age 18 at participating sites, including parks, schools and community agencies. A map of participating sites is available on the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services' website.

Gary Wells is community partnership director of Operation Food Search, which operates sites for the Summer Nutrition Program across Eastern Missouri. He says food distribution sites fill more than just a nutritional void. They also provide a safe social outlet and expanded learning opportunities.

"The more difficulty a child has with maintaining good nutrition or getting outside of the house, then the more significant the decline of retention is," he points out.

Wells adds that in order to keep making progress, the state still needs more sites and sponsors for summer meals, and Congress needs to reauthorize funding later this year.

According to the report, Missouri ranks 40th in the nation when it comes to feeding eligible children in the summer.

Mona Shand, Public News Service - MO