Summer Meals Helping Combat Academic Slide for MT Children
MISSOULA, Mont. – During the summer months, children need food assistance more than ever.
One in five children in Montana lives in a food insecure home, meaning he or she isn't sure where a next meal is coming from.
Many of these children rely on free and reduced meals during the school year.
But Stephanie Stratton, programs manager for the Montana Food Bank Network, says only a small fraction access summer meal programs.
The food bank network supports 140 partners across the state with summer food sites funded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Stratton says hunger over the summer can lead children to slide academically.
"Kids often, if they're not having their nutritional needs met, are not able to really retain some of the things that they learned throughout the school year and then are starting a little bit behind on their next school year," she points out.
Stratton says her organization is integrating fresh produce into its food deliveries. She says there are still barriers to providing meals for kids in rural parts of Montana.
A list of summer food sites is at the Montana Food Bank Network's website, mfbn.org.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, is another component of keeping children fed during the summer.
The Trump administration has proposed cutting this program by 25 percent over the next decade. More than 48,000 children in Montana rely on SNAP every month.
Stratton says the proposed cuts to the program would hurt Big Sky children, as well as other Montanans.
"It would be devastating for thousands of Montana families – not only households with children, but many of our senior populations would see a reduction in benefits, and it would also hurt our food pantries because, with the reduction in benefits of SNAP, they're going to see more people visiting food pantries," she points out.
Stratton notes that many farmers' markets accept SNAP. In some western Montana markets, families can double up on their SNAP dollars.