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Ohio Battles Summer Hunger with Innovative Programs

Japera Benson and Carol Whitmore work on Summer Meal Programs in Ohio. (Ohio Association of Foodbanks)
Japera Benson and Carol Whitmore work on Summer Meal Programs in Ohio. (Ohio Association of Foodbanks)
June 27, 2016

COLUMBUS, Ohio. - It's a hungry summer for some of Ohio's kids, as just a fraction of children who eat free or reduced priced meals during the school year are able to access federal Summer Food Service Program sites. Recent data shows that just 10 percent of eligible children in the state participate in the federal Summer Food Service Program.

AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associate member Japera Benson works with programs in Ohio trying to reach those kids who are missing out. She said hunger doesn't take a vacation.

"They're still hungry and they still need to eat and so a lot of these sites have weekly programs where the kids come for breakfast and lunch, and then they send food home during the weekend instead of waiting until Monday, going all those hours without eating," she said.

In Ohio, the Governor's Summer Meals Programs provide weekend meals, meal delivery for rural families and mobile farmers markets to help fill the gap. Partners in the program include the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, the Ohio Department of Education and the Ohio Association of Foodbanks.

For several years, Carol Whitmer, food programs manager for the Ohio Association of Foodbanks, has managed the Summer Weekend Meals Program and the Summer Rural Delivery Meal Program. She said some unique challenges prevent some kids from accessing federal meal locations.

"Getting the kids to come to a summer site is just not always possible," she said. "There's weather conditions, neighborhood continues, parents don't want their kids to walk certain neighborhoods, so all those type of things really need to be looked at to help to feed more kids in the summertime."

Whitmore contends that the federal program needs more flexibility to ensure all Ohio's hungry kids can have nutritious meals during the summer months. She said federal dollars are needed to boost the programs, as the state has done its part.

"Governor Kasich has been extremely supportive in the Summer Food Service Programs as far as looking at alternative methods of getting food out to kids, but we need more support," she said.

She adds that when children are hungry, their school performance suffers and they are more likely to have behavioral problems.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH