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Back To The Drawing Board For Summer Meals

DC Central Kitchen, flickr Creative Commons

The Kansas State Department of Education and four non-profit partners are going back to the drawing board in search of ways to keep rural children from going hungry when school is out. The Heartland Health Monitor’s Bryan Thompson reports.

Federal officials last month rejected a proposed demonstration project aimed at boosting participation in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Summer Food Service Program. It sought to allow ten summer meal sites in rural Kansas to change the rules for participation.

In those rural communities, children would go to congregate sites, says Cheryl Johnson, who heads Child Nutrition and Wellness at the State Department of Education.

“They could have activities at least two days a week, and when the students came those days, they could take home shelf-stable meals for one or two days," Johnson says.

The idea was to decrease transportation costs for rural parents. The need for new approaches is reflected in the fact that 44 counties in rural Kansas had no summer meal sites at all last year.

The program targets areas where child poverty is concentrated—and rural Kansas doesn’t fit that mold.

A new report from the Food Research and Action Center ranks the 50 states, plus Washington, D.C., on their participation in the summer meal program. Only Oklahoma ranks below Kansas.

Just seven percent of the children who eat free or reduced-price lunches during the school year in Kansas ate the free summer meals last year. This year, there are more than 100 new summer meal sites.