Summer Food Program Tries To Reach At-Risk Kids

fromMR

For millions of kids, being out of school means missing out on a free or reduced-price meal. Summer food programs try to meet the need but for every child they reach, seven more kids miss out.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Next we have a downside of summer vacation. For most kids, the summer means no classrooms, no homework. For some, it also means no lunch. Their subsidized lunches end with the school year. Summer food programs try to meet this need but for every child they reach, six others are missed. Here's Michigan Radio's Sarah Alvarez.

ALVAREZ: It's 7 in the morning when trucks start taking food out of this bustling and hot commercial kitchen in Warren, Michigan just outside Detroit. It will be lunch for about 500 kids a day at nearby summer food sites. Becky Schwenk is standing in front of what looks like hundreds of sandwiches spread out on a stainless steel table.

BECKY SCHWENK: We are making turkey and cheese, like, pita bread. And they will get a sandwich with fresh fruit, vegetable and also send out milk for them to drink for their protein.

ALVAREZ: In Michigan more than half a million kids who qualify for these free summer meals don't or can't make it to feeding sites. It's a similar story in lots of states. It works like this - where poverty statistics indicate there's a need for summer food, local organizations can run a food site and be reimbursed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The program works well where these sites are easy to get to, somewhere like a school, a YMCA or even this library in Ypsilanti, Michigan about an hour away. Nicole Putala says during the school year, two of her three children get subsidized lunches at school. That helps make ends meet. During the summer, it's lunch at this library.

NICOLE PUTALA: Well, it makes my food last longer throughout the week, you know. I have three kids. So I've noticed in the last eight months (laughter) our grocery bill has gotten bigger. So it's helpful for us.

ALVAREZ: Like all summer food sites, there's no sign-up here, no application. Kids just show up. As we're talking, Putala's son Aaron is ready to eat.

AARON: I'm just going to come to ask if I could go eat in there?

PUTALA: Sure.

AARON: OK.

ALVAREZ: Aaron politely grabs a bag lunch, along with 40 or so other kids, including DeQuan (ph) who opens up the bag to find...

DEQUAN: PB and J, applesauce, cheese stick, carrots, pickles and chocolate milk.

ALVAREZ: The kids eat in the library, in a room with small tables and chairs on one side and on the other, carpeted steps where kids can sit and eat while a librarian reads them books.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Reading) Meanwhile, back at the big bear's den...

ALVAREZ: This is the second year branch manager Joy Cichewicz and her staff have gotten help providing free lunches. Before that, they were trying to do it themselves. As soon as they found out libraries were eligible to become summer food sites, they were in.

JOY CICHEWICZ: Every year we have kids who are hungry. They're here all day and they want, you know, - do you have something to eat? I'm hungry. And they don't have money on them. And so I'm grateful that we have a way to do this.

ALVAREZ: Right now in Michigan and the few other states, the USDA is experimenting with a new idea - instead of making families come to a feeding site - which can be difficult - they can get a voucher to use at a grocery store. For NPR News, I'm Sarah Alvarez in Ypsilanti, Michigan.

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