The small bus parked in front of the office Tuesday at Cedarwood Apartments is actually a mobile lunchroom of sorts.
The apartment complex off Richmond Hill Road West in south Augusta, and the Cedar Grove Apartments across the street, are two of six Mobile Cafe summer feeding sites for the Family YMCA of Greater Augusta as it seeks to reach kids who got free or reduced price meals during the school year. The lunch and snack offered is for those kids “who otherwise wouldn’t be able to get a good meal,” said Haley Bourne, marketing and communications coordinator for the Family Y.
Sadly, fewer kids were able to get a summer meal last year than in previous years, according to a study released Tuesday by the Food Research and Action Center. After four straight years of growth, the number of children taking part in the Summer Nutrition Programs in 2016 declined by 153,000 from the previous year, a decline nearly 5 percent dip despite an increase of 119,000 who received free or reduced-price meals during the school year, the group reported. Much of the decline can be attributed to a few large states, like California and Texas, which declined by 50,000 kids last year, and it is not enough to wipe out the gains of recent years, said Crystal Fitzsimons, director of school and out-of-school time programs for the group.
“So we are still ahead from where we were four years ago but we still are really struggling to make sure that kids have access to summer nutrition,” she said.
In Georgia, 9,000 fewer children got summer food through those programs, a decline of more than 6 percent, according to the report. While there were seven fewer providers participating in the summer food programs, there were 67 more sites in Georgia offering meals, according to the report. Barriers in those rural communities can also keep kids from participating, Fitzsimons said.
“Transportation is a barrier and it makes it more difficult to run the summer nutrition programs in rural areas and sometimes even in some suburban areas as well,” she said. There are some “exciting models” where communities have used refurbished vans or buses to take kids to programs or incorporated meals into existing programs like a bookmobile.
Nationally, the biggest decline was in the school-based summer food programs, and 6,000 fewer kids got meals through those programs in Georgia. While they did not have statistics, Richmond County School System added four more sites and could be serving more children this year, said spokesman Kaden Jacobs.
“We increased our summer school enrollment so I imagine more kids have access this year than last year,” he said. Enrollment in summer school is not necessary to receive a meal at those sites and they are open to anyone 18 and under, according to information on the Richmond County Board of Education website.
As far as the Y mobile sites go, it is “so far so good,” Bourne said.
“Programs like this are very important to the kids we serve,” she said.
Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or email@example.com.