Many children in the Augusta area started summer break this week, and for some that could come with serious repercussions, including hunger.
More than 60 percent of Georgia schoolchildren were eligible for free or reduced-price meals this school year, said Falita Flowers, the director of nutrition services for the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning . Most schools have already concluded or will do so by Friday, and with them go the lunches and breakfasts those children rely on, she said.
“We’re hoping to fill in that gap by providing access to free healthy meals and snacks during the summer while school is closed,” Flowers said.
The Family Y of Greater Augusta hopes to do its part with free lunches and snacks at 14 sites, many of which got underway this week, and then five mobile sites that will go to apartment complexes where the need is especially acute, said Katie Duncan, the vice president of marketing for the Family Y.
The Y had been participating in the meal program at its summer sites but began the mobile program last year when “we recognized that many of these kids are in apartment complexes and may not be able to make it to some of our camp sites,” Duncan said. Transportation could be a problem for those children, she said.
“Parents are working during the summertime and may be working during the day and kids don’t have anywhere to go,” she said. “This just provides another option for them.”
The Y has some grants, but it is funding much of the program on its own, Duncan said.
The Early Care and Learning program is called the Summer Food Service Program and is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which also funds a summer food program through the Georgia Department of Education. Education works with local schools that are providing summer school programs, but Early Care and Learning works with a number of nonprofits, churches and Parks and Recreation departments to provide the meals in the communities, Flowers said.
They provided 5.6 million summer meals across Georgia last year, and this year with the education department will have a summer meal program in 153 of the 159 counties, she said.
Even with that, many children who might be eligible are not being reached, Flowers acknowledged. The Food Research Action Center found that of the 22 million kids nationwide eligible for free or reduced-price meals in the 2014-15 school year, only about 3.2 million – about 1 in 6 – were in a food program that summer. In Georgia, 871,568 were in a school meals program but only 151,142 – or 17.2 percent – were in a summer program, the group found.
Those numbers were actually slightly higher than what Flowers had thought were being reached.
“Not good enough,” she said, “but better.”
Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or firstname.lastname@example.org.