Across Florida, more schools, community centers and churches are serving summer meals for lower-income children, but the latest research says not enough families take advantage of these programs.
The Food Research and Action Center says that’s also the case nationwide.
Crystal FitzSimons, FRAC’s director of School and Out-of-School Time Programs, says Florida saw an increase in participation last year, with about 220,000 children in summer meal programs.
But she says there’s room for improvement, especially in rural areas where it might be hard to walk or bike to the meal sites.
FitzSimons says some states are doing better than others at reaching children who live outside the big cities.
“The practices that they use are extensive outreach to schools and nonprofits – and local government agencies, you know, making sure that there are sites in communities, partnering with groups, and doing a lot of outreach to families to let them know that the program’s available,” she states.
Since states receive federal food assistance money based on how many people they serve, the FRAC report says Florida missed out on almost $23 million last year by not reaching more children with summer meals.
Nationwide, summer nutrition programs served 3 million children last year. That’s nearly a 5 percent drop from the previous summer.
FitzSimons says the summer nutrition programs work best when they’re paired with education.
“The activities and the enrichment keep kids safe and learning, and out of trouble while their parents are working,” she explains. “And then, the food helps to ensure that they’re healthy and not hungry, and able to fully benefit from the program.”
Florida is making progress in summer meal outreach. Last year, it ranked 18th in the nation for the percentage of low-income children who participate in these programs. That’s up from 29th the previous year.
By Veronica Carter
Public News Service – FL