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MEDIA RELEASE: Summer meals reach only 16 percent of kids who eat free lunch at school

December 2, 2009— A new report from the Children’s Alliance shows that merely 16 percent of the 280,000 children who eat free lunches during the school year have access to similar meals during the summer months.

The report, “Summertime Hunger in Washington State,” includes initial data from the summer of 2009 that suggest more children flocked to the summer meal programs during the recession, but that the programs operated for fewer days as school districts, parks departments and other organizations cut back due to budget woes.

These and other findings from the report will be presented at a Work Session before the House Human Services Appropriation Committee at 8 a.m. on Thursday, December 3rd, in House Hearing Room B, John L. O'Brien Building in Olympia.

“Summer may seem like a distant memory, but legislators need to be thinking now about feeding hungry kids next summer, and the summer after,” said Linda Stone, Senior Food Policy Coordinator at the Children’s Alliance.

The Children’s Alliance is calling on lawmakers to make a modest investment of $250,000 to jumpstart summer meal programs in 10 to 12 communities, increase participation statewide to 70,000 kids and bring in an added $2 to $3 million in federal meal reimbursements.

The federal Summer Food Program helps fill the gap for hungry children by targeting areas where 50 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price meals during the school year. If every area in Washington that met that threshold served summer meals to eligible kids, 80,000 meals would be served daily to hungry kids, instead of 46,000. In Washington, nearly 140 schools that meet the 50 percent criteria have no summer meal programs offered by either the school or a local organization.

“Many low-income families rely on the nutritious breakfasts and lunches their children get at school,” Stone said. “For them, it can be incredibly difficult to keep food on the table during the summer months. Parents skip meals so their kids can eat, go to food banks, and rely heavily on cheap foods like noodles and rice.”

The Summer Food Program is most effective when paired with summer education and enrichment programs. But opportunities to access meals continue to diminish as summer sessions are shortened due to budget cuts from the economic crisis, sometimes abbreviated to just a few weeks. 

The consequences of childhood hunger can be severe. Studies find that low-income children who do not have access to quality summer programs experience higher rates of summer learning loss than their higher-income peers.

“With the economy expected to recover slowly, it is imperative that lawmakers at both the state and federal levels look for ways to stave off childhood hunger, especially during the hungry months of summer,” Stone said.

To read the Children’s Alliance report, Summertime Hunger in Washington State: http://www.childrensalliance.org/resource-center/summertime-hunger-washington-state-december-2009

CONTACT:Linda Stone, Senior Food Policy Coordinator, (509) 844-1314, linda@childrensalliance.org

Ruth Schubert, Communications Manager, (206) 324-0340 x18, cell: (206) 498-0185, ruth@childrensalliance.org