Missing out on free lunches

Greg Stotelmyer

June 20, 2013

FRANKFORT — Hunger doesn’t take the summer off. That’s the message in a new report that found tens of thousands of low-income kids in Kentucky aren’t getting free lunches they’re entitled to under government-run summer nutrition programs. Fewer than one of every 10 children who receive free or reduced-price meals in Kentucky schools are receiving summer meals.

Crystal Fitzsimons, director of school and out-of-school-time programs, Food Research and Action Center, says it’s not as easy for kids to get to the lunch table in the summer as it is during the school year.

“Transportation is one of the big barriers to the summer nutrition programs. The programs are designed to serve kids in congregate settings, and it is harder in communities that are rural to get kids to and from summer sites. It can be hard even in some urban areas, where transportation might be limited.”

Neighborhood House, a community center for youth in the Portland area of Louisville, is a summer feeding site. Kelly Garvey, associate executive director, said the numbers don’t surprise her, because there are now fewer summer nutrition sites across the city.

“Portland is a high-need area,” she said, “and you could probably add one or two more sites, because I really think it comes down to walking distance. How many kids are we serving? Well, a lot of kids coming to us are walking,” she said.

The report said that during the 2011-2012 school year, nearly 330,000 children received free and reduced-priced meals in Kentucky schools. But, on an average day last summer, fewer than 26,000 received meals. That ranks Kentucky 45th nationally.

Turnout at the Neighborhood house is “very robust” because of flyers, ads, emails and word of mouth, Garvey pointed out. She said a good lunch is an essential ingredient to the well-being of the youth who come to the community center.

“If a child is not adequately nourished,” she explained, “we’re going to see kids acting out more. We’re going to see kids with very unhappy faces, and that doesn’t go well with a youth program.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees summer nutrition programs, has made increasing participation a top priority for the agency. Its goal is to serve 5 million more meals this summer than last. Kentucky is one of 15 states targeted for beefed-up support.

The “Summer Nutrition Status Report 2013” is available at http://frac.org.