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Nebraska Struggles to Deliver Summer Meals

Fewer than three million children received a nutritious summer lunch on an average weekday in 2017, compared with 20 million kids who relied on school lunch programs during the academic year. (USDA)
Fewer than three million children received a nutritious summer lunch on an average weekday in 2017, compared with 20 million kids who relied on school lunch programs during the academic year. (USDA)
June 19, 2018

LINCOLN, Neb. – Nebraska continues to rank near the bottom compared to other states for getting nutritious meals to kids when school cafeterias close for the summer, according to a new report by the Food Research and Action Center.

Sometimes, families don't know about summer meal programs, or can't get to a meal site.

Eric Savaiano, program associate with the group, Nebraska Appleseed, says there's a lot of room for improvement. He notes summer meal programs are a critical bridge for many kids, especially from families that rely on free and reduced-priced breakfast and lunch during the school year.

"But we know that hunger does not quit when schools are out," he says. "So, these summer food service sites are critical to helping kids stay healthy over the summer, and just keep kids moving and active."

Last year, fewer than ten percent of Nebraska kids who relied on school lunches received summer meals. Savaiano says the state is working to address the issue, and 350 sites are now serving meals, up from 245 last year. They include schools, recreation centers, libraries, YMCAs, churches and parks, and are free for ages 18 and under.

To find a site near you, call 211, or text the word "food" to 877-877. Organizations that want to help serve meals should contact the Nebraska Department of Education.

Savaiano says the program also helps prevent low-income kids from experiencing a "summer slide," a loss of academic skills and knowledge during the break. He adds when kids have healthy summer meals, they're also better prepared to return to the classroom in the fall.

"We encourage our sites to make sure some activity or enrichment or learning is happening at the sites, too," he adds. "It keeps them occupied and engaged, and reducing that learning loss that happens over the summer. And then, it's book-ended by these meals, that these kids really need."

The report found nationally, just three million kids ate a nutritious summer lunch on an average weekday last year, compared to the 20 million children who participated in school lunch programs. Even fewer children, 1.6 million, got a summer breakfast.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - NE