DOWNTOWN — Kids who work up an appetite over the summer months will be able to chow down on some healthy grub for free under two federally-funded programs that provide nutritious meals for students whose families may be struggling to put food on the table.
Nearly 2,900 locations across the state, including three in Santa Monica, will offer the Summer Food Service and Seamless Summer Feeding Option programs.
In Santa Monica those locations are Virginia Avenue Park, the Police Activities League and Will Rogers Elementary School.
“I am deeply saddened to see so many families suffering through yet another year of devastating education budget cuts, service cuts, and job and home losses,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell. “However, I am pleased that we are still able to help some families stretch their food dollars by providing free and nutritious meals for certain kids and adults. The summer nutrition program provides vital aid to students who would otherwise go hungry, and helps them to return to school in the fall ready to learn.”
During the school year, economically-disadvantaged children in California are eligible to receive at least one nutritious meal a day while at school. But when school is out during the long summer recess, many of these children won’t have access to well-balanced and nutritious meals that are important to their growth and development.
In 2007-08, more than 50 percent of California’s public K-12 population, or 3,118,053 students, were enrolled in the state’s free and reduced-priced meal programs. During that same time period, California served a record 770.6 million meals during the school year, which were 28 million more meals than the year before — a 4.5 percent increase.
Historically, the state has experienced a 1 percent increase per year. More children are expected to enroll as California’s economic crisis continues. Despite this dramatic rise in the need for school lunches, only 541,000 low-income children ate a federally funded summer meal last July.
“We have our work cut out for us,” O’Connell said. “California’s summer meal programs in 2008 served less than 25 percent of the children eating a free or reduced priced school lunch during the school year — making California 47th among the 50 states in the proportion of eligible children served. It’s critical that communities work together to ensure access to these important meals and snacks this summer because so many districts have been forced to cancel their summer sessions, which often provide meals to hungry students as well as other children in the community.
“If California’s summer meal programs reach 100 percent of the low-income children who consumed a free or reduced-priced school lunch in 2008, an additional $181 million in federal reimbursement would come into those programs and boost California’s local economy. And we do not need to compete or apply for these funds.”
Children 18 years and younger from low-income families may receive free meals through the food programs. Both are federally-funded programs administered through the California Department of Education. The programs operate when school is not in session for 15 days or more. The summer meal sites must serve meals that include milk, fruits, vegetables or juice; grain products; and meat or a meat alternate. The program allows sites to serve each day: two meals; a meal and a snack; or if at a camp, three meals a day.
“Basically we want to make sure that kids eat a well-balanced meal at least one day a week,” said Karen Humphrey, program supervisor at PAL. “Some kids don’t get that. Their parents give them money and tell them to get something from the snack machine.”
For those with allergies or other special needs, contact providers at least five days in advance, Humphrey said.
For more information about summer meals, visit www.cde.ca.gov/ls/nu/sf/.