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Fewer Indiana Kids Getting Free Summer Meals

The need for free and reduced-price meals during school years has grown, but the number of kids participating in summer nutrition programs has dropped. (Lorie Tuter)
The need for free and reduced-price meals during school years has grown, but the number of kids participating in summer nutrition programs has dropped. (Lorie Tuter)
July 10, 2017

INDIANAPOLIS — While summer is a time for enjoying family and friends or taking road trips, hunger doesn't take a vacation in Indiana. A new report by the Food Research and Action Center says millions of children who rely on free and reduced-price school breakfasts and lunches lose access to those meals when schools aren't in session.

In July of 2016, more than 3 million children were served through summer nutrition programs. But that number was a drop of more than 4 percent from 2015.

Mychaela Brandle, coordinator of the No Kid Hungry Summer Campaign with the group Feeding Indiana's Hungry, said many kids can't get to places where food is being served, especially in rural communities.

"It's difficult to get out to those areas where kids' town is 15 miles away, or the nearest school could be miles away and it's not accessible by their bike [or] to walk, and they have to be dependent on someone to get them there,” Brandle explained.

The report said in July 2015, 79,000 children took part in summer meal programs in Indiana - but that number dropped to 68,000 in July 2016. One factor is that many parents don't know about the programs or where to find them.

The Indiana Department of Education has an interactive map of summer meal sites on its website, doe.in.gov.

Indiana ranked 23rd out of all the states for its percentage of low-income children who participate in summer nutrition programs. Brandle said she wants to focus on making sure no child goes hungry, and she knows there's a lot more that could be done.

"Maybe looking at states that are doing it well, and trying to implement some of their strategies where we can take something that's already a well oiled machine, implement it here and kind of cover and patch those holes,” she said.

Summer meals are served at schools, recreation centers, YMCAs, Boys and Girls Clubs, churches and parks - with many offering educational activities for the kids. Crystal Fitzsimon, director of School and Out of School Time Programs at FRAC, said that combination works the best.

"The activities and the enrichment keep kids safe and learning, and out of trouble while their parents are working,” Fitzsimon said; "and then, the food helps to ensure that they're healthy and not hungry, and able to fully benefit from the program."

Veronica Carter, Public News Service - IN