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Nebraska Falls Behind in Serving Kids' Summer Meals

Summer meal sites in Nebraska provide nutrition and enrichment activities for lower-income kids, but a new report says too few families take advantage of them. (USDA/Flickr)
Summer meal sites in Nebraska provide nutrition and enrichment activities for lower-income kids, but a new report says too few families take advantage of them. (USDA/Flickr)
June 19, 2017

LINCOLN, Neb. -- Hunger prevents some Nebraska kids from enjoying the carefree days of summer. And new research says the state hasn't made enough progress to make food available to more youngsters in need.

The Food Research and Action Center's annual "Hunger Doesn't Take a Vacation" report ranked Nebraska 50th of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. It showed more than 700 fewer Nebraska children were served by meal programs in July of 2016 than the same month a year before.

Crystal FitzSimons with the center said that's a 7.4 percent decrease compared to 2015 and mentioned some possible reasons for the drop.

"Sometimes, rural states can really struggle with access to the program,” FitzSimons said. "So they may have not enough summer programs for kids, and then on top of that, some transportation barriers."

Participation also fell about five percent nationally.

Summer Nutrition Programs are available to lower-income kids who qualify for free or reduced-priced lunches during the school year. But in Nebraska, just 1-in-8 of these children accesses summer meals.

In 2016, Nebraska had 186 summer meal sites, about ten fewer than 2015. Those sites included churches and community centers that FitzSimons noted often offer enrichment activities and socialization that keep kids engaged.

"Kids who don't have access to educational and enrichment programming during the summer return in the fall hungry and further behind,” she said, "because kids lose academic learning during the summer when they don't have access to summer programming."

About 16 percent of Nebraska children are considered "food insecure," and FitzSimons said outreach efforts should be increased to ensure families are aware of the summer meal programs.

Food site information is available by texting the word "Food" to 877-877.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - NE