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Free Summer Meals Reach Just 10 Percent of Needy Iowa Kids

Nearly 180,000 kids in Iowa don't get the free summer meals that are being provided in many communities. (
Nearly 180,000 kids in Iowa don't get the free summer meals that are being provided in many communities. (
May 23, 2016

DES MOINES, Iowa - Close to 90 percent of the Iowa children who are eligible for free meals during their summer break aren't getting them.

Community groups run summer meal sites across the state, but the Iowa Department of Education says of more than 200,000 kids in need of the meals, only about 21,000 actually receive them.

Stephanie Dross, an education consultant with the department, says lack of transportation is a big factor.

"Getting kids to those meal-site locations over the summer months, those barriers occur both in rural and urban communities," says Dross. "And so, this is one of the largest challenges that we face."

Dross says many communities have come up with innovative solutions to get kids to the meals they need.

"A lot of our sponsoring organizations look to some of the local transit agencies to see if they can develop a relationship," says Dross. "That might look like a bus that runs within the community, that might pick up children for free."

The summer meal program is funded through the USDA, and facilitated by the Iowa Department of Education, which works with organizations at the community level.

In some cases, it's a matter of determining the right places to serve the free meals. Dross says the Iowa Department of Education has already come up with a few new ideas.

"We're looking to establish serving sites at farmers markets, because families and children are coming to the farmers markets to access some locally-grown foods," says Dross. "And we're also looking to see if we can make connections with medical facilities, because we know families are active and about with those."

She adds many more community groups could be getting involved.

"It might be a school district, it might be a private nonprofit, it could be a city entity," says Dross. "And these sponsors establish meal sites in the ares of high need and then, they're reimbursed via this USDA reimbursement for all of the meals served to children age 18 and under."

Organizations interested in becoming meal-site sponsors can find out more online at

Families can call the Hunger Hotline to find out where meal sites are located in their area, at 866-3-HUNGRY. Or text the word "food" to 877-877.

Bob Kessler, Public News Service - IA