Needy children receive nutritious meals through federally and state funded summer program(2)

So what happens during the summer months to those thousands of children whose families can’t provide them the nutritious foods they need?

More than a dozen children packed the snack room of the Boys and Girls Club on the West side of Charleston. That group represented only a fraction of the 150 participating in the organization’s summer program, a program focused on keeping kids active during the summer months, providing recreational and educational activities.

“We provide a safe environment for them for only $ 25 for the whole summer program which includes the 8 hours a day that they’re here, they get a full meal every single day and they get to go to the pool also for free. We also have field trips that they can pay a couple extra dollars for, usually a discount, all around the Kanawha Valley.”

Michael Farmer is the director of the summer program and says a partnership with the state Department of Education and the US Department of Agriculture is providing these children another valuable advantage while school is out, a free meal containing the full servings of five food groups. Kids get a fruit, vegetable, protein, grain and a carton of milk.   

“We see a lot of the kids that will come in with a soda and a bag of chips and that will be their lunch for the day,” Farmer said. “So, it’s a great opportunity for us to be able to provide them with a full meal to make sure they’re going to get all the nutrition they need throughout the day.”

The Charleston Boys and Girls Club is just one of more than 400 sites in West Virginia able to offer those meals through the state’s Summer Food Service program.

Just like the meals provided during the school day, the USDA reimburses the state for a percentage of the money spent to provide those meals. Last year, the reimbursements totaled more than $ 1.6 million for the 600,000 summer meals served.

But nationally, summer feeding programs aren’t necessarily seeing the participation some would like. Of the 22 million children who eat breakfast and lunch at school on a daily basis, only 15 percent are receiving meals during the summer.

James Harmon, Director of Special Nutrition Programs at the USDA, said that rate has a lot to do with where those children live.

“In the urban setting, you can get the children to the sites, but when you have a site out in a rural county and you might have to bring the children from 10 miles away, 15 miles away, it’s much harder to get the to the program,” Harmon said. “So, for us, we’re really trying to expand out into the rural population.”

West Virginia ranks 14 in the nation for participation in summer feeding programs. Last year, the state helped provide 13,000 kids meals at 452 sites. This year, they’re working to expand that number by taking on what Harmon calls one of the biggest challenges, transportation.

The state Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Resources are teaming up to provide transportation to feeding sites.

Director of the Department of Education’s Office of Child Nutrition Rick Goff said the summer feeding sites are also part of a newly passed piece of legislation in the state, the Feed to Achieve Act.

“What it does, it supports and supplements child nutrition programs that are already established and in place throughout West Virginia and we have many,” Goff said, “but the new legislation will help support and get participation in all those programs up to try to maximize the federal dollars before we seek local contribution.”

But local contributions from private businesses are also a key part of the Feed to Achieve Act. This is the first time the state has ever looked to partner with private business to support government programs, which Harmon said is the next step to seeing these feeding programs expand not only in the state, but across the country.

“We know that the federal contribution is finite. There’s just so much money that Congress will budget for these programs,” Harmon said. “The state money that they can put in is finite and so looking for private contributions and getting those partnerships going is the next step for us to really increase participation in our programs and healthy meals.”

For a list of the more than 400 feeding sites across the state, click the link below:


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