With more than one out of every five students in Auglaize County and two out of every five students in the state qualifying for reduced-price school lunches, a U.S. legislator started a push this week to have Gov. John Kasich approve more Summer Food Service Program sites in Ohio.
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown said the number of children qualifying for reduced-price school lunches and breakfast tells the tale of the economy as 22 percent of Auglaize County residents and 40 percent of Ohio students qualify for the program.
“These are statistics of families struggling to get by and children are so often helpless victims in a struggling economy,” said Brown, who wanted parents and guardians to be aware of the summer food program availablity. “Some 800,000 children receive free or reduced-price meals at our schools. These meals provide the nutrition these children need to thrive in the classroom.
“The problem is summer break often means a summer break from good nutrition,” he said Wednesday during a media teleconference. “Only 10 percent of children who receive nutrition assistance — free and reduced-price lunches and breakfasts during the school — participate in summer feeding programs. The Summer Food Service Program is a critical program that can help stem the crippling cycle of food insecurity that can provide children with breakfast, lunch or a snack during the summer.”
Brown said many of these children often participate in summer activities including sports and other leisure-time activities. Last year there were 1,456 sites around the state, but as of now there are just more than 1,000 approved by Kasich.
In Auglaize County, there are two sites. Cridersville Elementary School, 501 Reichelderfer Road, is an open site, while Wapakoneta Middle School, 400 W. Harrison St., is a closed enrolled site.
To date, 33 Ohio counties have no summer feeding site including nearby counties such as Champaign, Mercer, Ottawa, Putnam and Shelby.
Brown said he hopes Kasich increases the number of sites in the coming weeks.
The Summer Food Service Program is administered by the Ohio Department of Education and is run locally by approved sponsors, including school districts, local government agencies, camps, or private non-profit organizations.
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.
Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the Ohio Association of Second Harvest Foodbanks, supports Brown’s efforts.
“Certainly, the continuing fallout of the Great Recession not only has had an adverse effect on our families but it is severely straining our state and local budgets and is resulting in cuts to summer youth programs which is then having a negative effect on children and food service programs,” Hamler-Fugitt said. “Currently, we have 36 (33) Ohio counties without a Summer Food Service Program site and those students will not only lose educational ground but there health will be at risk.
“We really want to raise awareness and issue a call to action to help us address the growing childhood hunger problem,” she said. “We need to get the word out to low-income families about the Summer Food Service Program.”