DES MOINES, Iowa – For thousands of low-income families in Iowa, summer vacation is a time of increased hunger, as children don’t have school meals to rely on. But progress is being made to close that gap. A new study from the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) shows the number of children in the state taking part in federal Summer Nutrition Programs is rising.
That mirrors the national improvements, after the big hit many programs took during the recession, according to Signe Anderson, a senior child nutrition policy analyst with FRAC. “During the economic downturn a lot of schools shut their doors and no longer offered summer school,” she says. “And so, along with that, the summer meals disappeared because oftentimes, the meal program are set up with summer school programming that goes on.”
As of the summer of 2013, the number of Iowa children served by Summer Nutrition Programs had reached more than 16,000, although that’s still just 10 percent of the 165,000 who receive free and reduced-price lunches during the school year. Another way to reach those children going without regular meals over the summer, explains Anderson, is through local parks and recreation programs.
“That’s another area where oftentimes, kids are in the parks, and they’re outside and ideally that’s where you want them to be, is outside and active in a safe space,” she explains. “Working with Parks and Rec has also been a good avenue, and then also, YMCAs and Boys and Girls Clubs.”
Nationally, the average daily participation in summer meal programs rose about 6 percent from 2012 to 2013, while the increase in Iowa was nearly 17 percent. Anderson points out that in addition to nutritious food, these programs also help children with enrichment and recreational activities that keep them engaged, learning, and safe during summer vacation.
(Iowa News Service)