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Summertime ... and the children are hungry

Published: Monday, Feb. 11, 2013 3:44 p.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, Feb. 11, 2013 3:56 p.m. CDT

Hungry children from all corners of Bureau County rely on school nutrition programs to keep their bellies full during the school year.

But when summer comes, chances are those same children could be going hungry.

To combat this, the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) is spreading the word about free, nutritious meals and snacks available to children this summer at more than 1,600 summer food service program sites across the state.

“The board urges school administrators to make sure their students take advantage of these crucial programs to help fill the nutritional gap between the last and first day of school,” said Illinois State Superintendent of Education Christopher A. Koch. “Good nutrition helps keep young brains active and engaged in learning inside and outside of the classroom.”

Summer food programs work by providing free meals and snacks to low-income children through age 18 when school is not in session. Individuals age 18 through 21 who are enrolled in school programs for persons with disabilities may also participate.

Summer food programs typically operate when school is not in session during June, July and August, but can start as early as May and can go into September. Sites must be located in areas where at least 50 percent of the children are eligible for free and reduced meals from the National School Lunch Program, or the family’s income is 185 percent of the federal poverty guidelines.

ISBE administers two federally-funded summer food programs – the USDA’s Summer Food Service Program for Children and the federal National School Lunch Program’s Seamless Summer Option. Both programs are designed to bridge the summer nutrition gap by offering free nutritious breakfasts, lunches or snacks to children age 18 and younger. Applications are due no later than June 15 and can be found at: www.isbe.net/nutrition/htmls/summer.htm.

In Bureau County, the DePue School District participates in the Seamless Summer Option. DePue Cafeteria Director Elizabeth Fox said the summer school program lasts as long as the district has summer school.

"If summer school is only 20 days, that is how long the program is in operation," Fox said. "However, last year it went into July."

Fox said the program at DePue is just a breakfast program because the students are done by 11:30 a.m.

During the summer of 2011, more than 109,600 low-income Illinois children ate free meals through summer food programs. Those children represent 15.1 percent of the roughly 725,000 children who ate free or reduced-priced meals during the 2010-11 school year. Nationally, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports only 2.79 million children received summer meals on an average day during the summer. The total number of children participating in summer nutrition nationally fell by 24,000 or 0.9 percent from July 2010 to July 2011.

School districts, local governments and non-profits can all sponsor summer food sites, which may include schools, parks, recreation centers, churches, summer camps and others. Schools may also help sponsors get the word out to students and the community about available programs. Most summer food program sites are open to all children in the community, however, some sites just serve meals to those children enrolled in a specific program.

To find a summer meals site close to you, contact the Illinois Hunger Coalition’s Hunger Hotline at 800-359-2163 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. The hotline is available in both English and Spanish.

Schools like DePue that operate an academic summer school and serve meals to students in attendance must also open their doors to children in the community to participate in the Seamless Summer option.

By enrolling in the Seamless Summer option, schools will not only provide a service to children in their school but the community at large.

Comment on this story at www.bcrnews.com.

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