03/06/11 — State seeking help providing summer meals for children in need

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State seeking help providing summer meals for children in need

By From staff reports
Published in News on March 6, 2011 1:50 AM

Summer vacation means fun for most kids, but state officials are worried that many children who receive free or reduced-price meals during the school year may not be getting enough to eat during the summer when school is out.

Community organizations can help by participating in the federal Simplified Summer Foods Program. The program, coordinated by the N.C. Division of Public Health, pays for food for summer programs that operate in low-income areas or serve primarily low-income children.

"These children need nutritious meals and snacks for healthy growth and development when school is out so they are better able to continue learning when they return to school," said Alice Lenihan, head of the N.C. Division of Public Health's Nutrition Services Branch. "But without enough providers, we can't reach all the children who could benefit."

Last year, with the support of 113 sponsoring organizations, the Summer Foods Program served an average of 66,533 children each day. But that is only a fraction of the number of children who are eligible for meals. According to public school data, more than 790,000 children received free or reduced price school meals during the last school year.

"There are almost 30 counties without a summer food program," Lenihan said. "The program provides sponsors with full federal reimbursement for each meal they serve, so there is no reason that children should go hungry during the summer."

Schools, local government agencies and private non-profits can participate in the program, as can other places where children congregate during the summer, such as parks, swimming pools, and low-income housing complexes. Participation is easy; it does not require a lot of complicated paperwork, and free training is provided.

To qualify, a site must either be located in a low-income area where 50 percent or more of the children in the area are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals, or it must serve primarily low-income children, at least half of whom are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals.

Most sites can provide up two meals a day through the program. Camps and sites serving primarily migrant children can provide up to three meals a day, but they qualify under slightly different rules.

Participating sponsors will receive training in March or April; final applications are due by June 15.

For more about the program, visit the web site at www.nutritionnc.com/snp/sfsp.htm. For the training schedule or to find out how to apply to be a provider, contact the N.C. Division of Public Health's Special Nutrition Programs office at 707-5799.