A new report shows the 2019 Summer Food Service Program served 3.2 million meals to Kentucky children. Those meals were served at schools, in buses converted to mobile cafés, and sometimes at tables set up in someone’s yard.
That expansion of meals served to children has been a trend, with double-digit increases every year during the past five years.
One reason for the increase is an expansion of mobile feeding programs that bring meals to children in rural areas.
For example, in Muhlenberg County Schools’ new 2019 summer feeding program, one site in the town of Graham was not well attended. A man in the community called the school district food service manager and said the program could use his yard as an area to feed young people. He set up tables and chairs and the children were served meals there.
Kate McDonald, coordinator of the Kentucky Kids Eat program, said that new Muhlenberg County program served 20,000 meals at 47 sites during the past summer.
“There are so many kids that live in hard to reach areas, and people are really being creative and kind of bending over backwards to make sure every kid gets access to healthy meals,” said McDonald.
The summer feeding program is intended to provide nutritious meals to children who usually get free or reduced breakfast or lunch during the school year. However, everyone 18 or younger is welcome to eat at the summer feeding sites.
McDonald said the summer meals help stretch family budgets when children are home and parents' income likely hasn't increased. The summer program has increased efforts to notify families of the summer meal sites, particularly because some locations are not schools or community centers, but may be near a local convenience store, in a safe place on a quiet street, or in a park.
“Instead of expecting families and kids to go to a site that may be dangerous for kids to get to, or hard to reach if you don’t have transportation, we actually go into communities, like neighborhoods, or even just part of towns where they know kids can easily congregate.”
McDonald said the program wants to add more sites next summer, especially in hard-to-reach rural areas.