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Report: Kids Go Hungry Despite Programs

A new report shows that thousands of Pennsylvania children needlessly go hungry, in spite of national programs set up specifically to head off just this sort of calamity.

According to the “Hunger Doesn’t Take a Vacation: Summer Nutrition Status Report 2012,” commissioned by the Food Research and Action Center, in 2010, 544,621 Pennsylvanian children were enrolled in the National School Lunch Program, yet the program only reached 23.7 percent of the eligible children. Those numbers worsened in 2011, when there were 533,339 children enrolled, while the program only reached 21.5 percent of those eligible.

While those put Pennsylvania in the upper half of state rankings (and well ahead of the 2011 national average of only 14.6 percent reach), it still signifies gaping holes in a system built to plug them.

There are two federal summer nutrition programs — the National School Lunch Program and the Summer Food Service Program — which were designed to feed at-risk youth in low-income areas and school districts; SFSP was established to cover the summer months and was designed to work in tandem with the school year-based NSLP. The School District of Philadelphia participates in both programs.

“The number of low-income children who are receiving free or reduced-price lunch during the regular school year is one excellent indicator of the need for the Summer Nutrition Programs… In July 2011, only 14.6 children received Summer Nutrition for every 100 low-income students who received lunch in the 2010–2011 school year,” read the explanatory statement from FRAC. “Only one in seven children who needed summer food, according to this measure, was getting it.

“The number of low-income children receiving help form the school lunch program grew significantly (by 472,000 low-income children) during the 2010–2011 school year,” FRAC’s statement continued, “reflecting the growing need in the aftermath of the recession. In many states, budget cuts caused school districts to eliminate or reduce their summer programs, resulting in 70,000 fewer students being served by the National School Lunch Program in July 2011 than the previous year.”

That will resonate with parents who have children in the Philadelphia school district, which has all but eliminated all summer programs, which fell victim to the School Reform Commission’s adoption of the massive, five-year reorganization blueprint and a series of austerity measures that has stripped the school district of several programs.

“When districts scale back summer school programs or shut their doors, children will wind up paying the price, since these kids are still hungry when school lets out,” said Public Citizens for Children and Youth Director of Family Economic Security Kathy Fisher. “Pennsylvania is failing to meet needs of low-income children.

“We are concerned fewer children will have access to meals this summer as well,” Fisher continued. “Inadequate funding for schools effects more than just education, but also child nutrition and health. Many school districts have had to cut summer school and youth programs, which means fewer children have access to summer meals.”

But all is not lost here, as several non-profits plan on filling that gap and either provide food itself or act as a sort of umbrella organization that provides information.

One such organization is Public Citizens for Children and Youth, which has formed partnerships with several area food banks, including the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger. Area families can find summer meal sites by calling the food hotline, 1-855-252-MEAL, while a searchable map of locations is available online at www.hungercoalition.org; the United States Department of Agriculture, in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Department of Education has established a website — www.PaSummerMeals.com — which provides a searchable database of registration-free summer food service sites. Those interested can also call 1-800-331-0129, ext. 537637.

“There is an opportunity for everyone to make a difference in participation and ensure that more children can access summer meals,” said Food Research and Action Center President Jim Weill. “Children cannot continue to bear the burden of budget cuts. It is in everyone’s best interest to ensure that children have adequate nutrition during the summer so they stay healthy and are ready to learn.”


The Philadelphia Tribune - June 15, 2012 - Read article online

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