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Colorado Kids Can Eat Free All Summer Long

PHOTO: One in five Colorado children are at risk of hunger when meals they relied on at school are no longer a part of their daily lives. A statewide collaboration of churches, nonprofits and community groups are providing free meals all summer long to children age 18 and younger. Photo courtesy U.S. Department of Agriculture.
PHOTO: One in five Colorado children are at risk of hunger when meals they relied on at school are no longer a part of their daily lives. A statewide collaboration of churches, nonprofits and community groups are providing free meals all summer long to children age 18 and younger. Photo courtesy U.S. Department of Agriculture.
June 8, 2015

DENVER – Summer should be fun for all kids, but when schools close their cafeteria doors for summer break, thousands across the state are at risk of going hungry.

To keep bellies full before fall, a statewide collaboration including 533 community sites across Colorado are offering free meals, and fun, to anyone age 18 and younger.

Kate Blackford, program manager with Hunger Free Colorado, says all kids should have access to healthy meals so they can thrive in and out of school.

"It's estimated one in five Colorado kids may not know when or where they're going to get their next meal," she says. "Programs like the summer meals help fill this nutritional gap and help families stretch their food budgets further."

Blackford notes that one of the biggest challenges in getting food to kids during the summer is transportation, particularly in rural areas where school buses also are on summer vacation. According to a new report from the Food Research and Action Center, only nine out of every 100 young Coloradans who rely on school breakfasts and lunches were able to access summer meals last year.

The Summer Food Service Program, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), relies on partners such as nonprofits, churches and recreation centers to serve free breakfasts, lunches, snacks and dinners, all of which meet federal nutrition guidelines. The groups also organize activities for kids. Everyone is welcome; there are no income or registration requirements.

According to Darlene Barnes, regional administrator with the USDA Food and Nutrition Service, consistent meals in the summertime result in nutritionally-prepared kids in the fall.

"Good nutrition in the summer helps young people return to school ready to learn," says Barnes. "We really appreciate that kids have this opportunity, because nutrition is important all year round."

Last year the program served nearly 1.5 million meals to Colorado kids, which marked a 95 percent increase compared to 2009. This year the goal is to raise the percentage of children fed by seven percent, or 105,000 additional meals.

To find a summer food site, a bilingual information line is available at (855) 855-4626. An interactive Kids Food Finder map is also available online at www.kidsfoodfinder.org.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - CO