The Summer Food Service Program, which provides free meals for children during the summer months, will have an increased presence in Missouri this year. Because participation in the program is low across the country, the administrator for the Food and Nutrition Service through the U.S. Department of Agriculture is seeking solutions to increase participation in Missouri.
Some states have summer school programs that allow students to have access to meals through their cafeterias. For many, though, this opportunity does not exist. To help solve this, the Food and Nutrition Service through the U.S. Department of Agriculture created the Summer Food Service Program. The program provides nutritious meals for children who do not have access to free meals over the summer.
Although many children in Missouri qualify for this program, a large amount do not participate in it.
Administrator for the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Services Administration Audrey Rowe said that nationally the participation in the program is low across the country, especially in rural states.
“What we started doing last year is targeting states that have very low participation, as well as had challenges in getting students to sponsors, getting sponsors in place,” Rowe said. “And we are using all the federal and state resources, as well as our partner resources.”
Rowe said one of the main goals of the administration is to provide more accessibility for those children that live in rural areas like Missouri.
“We’re working with mobile feeding sites,” she said. “We will have and working through the Missouri state agency. We will be working with our rural development agency with the USDA, and then with the state of Missouri agency that oversees this program. We’ll be working to identify those sites where we need to have mobile feeding.”
She said the program targets communities that may not have access through their schools, but to other community organizations like a church and a library. Rowe said if students don’t have access to meals over the summer, it affects their ability to learn.
“They don’t have meals,” she said. “They certainly don’t have access to healthy food in many cases, so the chips and soda become the meal of the day, and that affects. And all of the data shows that the lack of nutrition during the summer meals does have an effect on the students’ readiness to learn when they return to school.”
Rowe said another reason why participation is low both nationally and in Missouri is because many families aren’t aware the program even exists. The administration has started working with local organizations, like food banks and schools, to try to increase awareness.
“We’re working with community-based organizations to get information,” Rowe said. “We hope to send home at the end before the end of the school year fliers and information for parents with a telephone number so that they can call to find out where the nearest food site is to their home for their child.”
Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services Communications Director Ryan Hobart said, the Summer Food Service Program will benefit those same students over the summer that qualify for free or reduced meals during the school year.
“But it’s definitely something I think is a benefit to those students who get the free or reduced price lunches during the year, and it ensures they have access to healthy nutritious food over the summer months,” he said.
Hobart said currently the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services are seeking sponsor sites for the Summer Food Service Program in Missouri.
“But the department is trying to find schools in areas where this, places whether they are schools, faith based organizations, camps non-profit agencies, or government agencies that might be able to run one of these food service sites,” he said. “We’re just trying to make sure that we try to find volunteers in areas where this is needed.”
Organizations that would like to become a sponsor site for the Summer Food Service Program in Missouri need to act fast. The deadline to apply is May 15.