Sites open to offer meals to needy children

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 24, 2012

WASHINGTON, D.C. — More than 840,000 needy children in Ohio receive critical nutrition assistance during the school year, but many go hungry in the summer months. With schools closing for the summer and with more than 18 percent of Ohio families unsure about where their next meal will come from, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) is alerting Ohioans to resources available through the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), a federal nutrition program run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) which currently operates at 1,734 sites across 77 Ohio counties.

“For most Ohio children, the school year is ending and summer has begun. This year, more than 840,000 children qualified and utilized free or reduced-price school lunches this past year. That’s hundreds of thousands of Ohio students that might not have access to a nutritious meal at home—or when school cafeterias close for the summer. That’s where the Summer Food Service Program steps in,” Brown said. “With more than 1,700 feeding sites and counting in Ohio, summer break doesn’t have to mean a break from good nutrition. But right now, too many Ohio families remain unaware about this critical program. Public awareness is vital to ensure that the end of the school year doesn’t mean an end to hunger.”

Brown released a county-by-county report on the percentage of Ohio students that qualify for free or reduced-price lunches and a list of summer feeding sites in Ohio, along with a list of the 11 counties in Ohio that currently have no program sites. The list Brown released today contains nearly 1,600 sites, and is the most recently available list from the Ohio Department of Education (ODE), which administers the program throughout the state. Additional sites have been added since last week, for a current total of 1,734 sites. For the most up-to-date list of program sites, Ohioans should visit the ODE website or call 1-855-570-7377.

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Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the Ohio Association of Second Harvest Foodbanks, joined Brown to discuss the importance of the SFSP, along with Tony Siebeneck, the executive director of Feed Lucas County Children, Inc., which runs 80 SFSP sites throughout Lucas County. While the official deadline for interested sponsors was May 31st, organizations that are interested in establishing new centers in critically underserved areas may still be able work with the Ohio Department of Education to set up new sites, and should contact ODE as soon as possible. According to the USDA, units of local government, camps, schools, and private nonprofit organizations can sponsor the SFSP.

According to data released by the Ohio Department of Education, which administers the SFSP in Ohio, more than 840,000 Ohio students received free or reduced-price lunches through the National School Lunch Program in the 2011-2012 school year. As reported by the Columbus Dispatch, this figure represents an increase of more than 52 percent from a decade ago. Even though hundreds of thousands of Ohio children receive free or subsidized school lunches, last year just over 66,000 used the SFSP in the summer months.

“The math is simple here. Fewer children are getting summer meals and more will go hungry. Ohio is failing to meet the needs of low-income children,” said Hamler-Fugitt. “When summer programs scale back services or shut their doors, children wind up paying the price. But it’s not too late to make a difference this summer.”

“Between the Summer Food Service program and assistance from AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers, there is nothing that can stop us from ending hunger in Lucas County. The Summer Food Service Program is a critical lifeline that helps ensure that thousands of Toledo-area children can continue to access nutritious meals throughout the summer months,” Siebeneck said.

The National School Lunch Program provides free, nutritious meals to children from families with incomes at or below 130 percent of the poverty level and reduced-price lunches between 130 percent and 185 percent of the poverty level. Similarly, the SFSP provides free, nutritious meals and snacks to help children in low-income areas get the nutrition they need throughout the summer months when they are out of school. SFSP is run locally by approved sponsors, including school districts, local government agencies, camps, or private nonprofit organizations.