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Millions of Students Miss Out on School Meals During Summer

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By guest blogger Lisa Stark

Nearly every weekday during the summer break, a giant truck from the Food Bank for the Heartland in Omaha, Neb., loads up hot meals and heads out into the community.

The goal is to help feed children who would normally get free and reduced-price meals during the school year. It's one of 50,000 programs nationwide providing summer meals to children. Public school districts, parks departments, public libraries, and YMCAs are among the entities that help provide summer feeding programs.

But there is still a huge hunger gap during the months when school is out. The Food Research & Action Center  found that for every 100 kids who participate in a free and reduced-price lunch program during the year, just 15 of them get summer meals.

Crystal FitzSimons, the director of the center's out-of-school time programs, said it's especially difficult to reach children in rural areas. Transportation can be an issue, but FitzSimons said the other big problem is that there aren't enough publicly funded summer programs for low-income children. Those programs can provide educational and enrichment programs and are also a good place to offer summer meals.

The Food Bank for the Heartland's program is carried out in conjunction with the Omaha Salvation Army and reaches 1,300 children a day. Their goal is to make sure these children get at least one hot meal a day.

During our reporting in Omaha, we found eager takers for the food, although one 3rd grader did have a suggestion for a menu improvement—donuts!

Well, we have good news to report—some donuts do meet U.S. Department of Agriculture summer nutrition guidelines. Jackie Cambridge, with Westside Community Schools Contract Meal Services, which dishes up the food for this Omaha program, told us that there are whole grain donuts, donut holes, and long johns the food truck can offer. "They are quite good," she said, "and I will remember that for next summer." 





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