Kids who get some of their meals from schools don’t have to go hungry when school is out for the summer, with a state program to continue providing food to hungry families.
More than half the children in Illinois public schools qualified for the free and reduced lunch programs this year, which provide school breakfasts and lunches to students whose families meet income guidelines.
But when summer is out, frequently children go hungry. According to Foodbank, coordinator of food pantry distribution in the bi-state area, one in five children in the metro-east has “food insecurity,” which means they don’t know where their next meal is coming from — and it may not come at all.
The Summer Meals Program, administered by the Illinois State Board of Education, uses funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help local charity organizations, government agencies and schools feed children through the summer months.
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“It’s an incredibly important program because it fills the meal gap for children who might otherwise go hungry,” said Katie Klus of the Illinois Hunger Coalition.
More than 2,300 sites will serve food once or twice a day during the summer vacation. It’s the 40th anniversary of the program, which served 107,000 children in the summer of 2013 — but that was only 14 percent of the 775,000 children who qualified for free and reduced lunch that y4ear.
“Hunger does not stop when summer vacation starts,” said state superintendent Tony Smith. “All children deserve access to nutritious meals year-round.”
Klus said many of the sites also offer some sort of physical activity or educational opportunities, which help the kids break up the summer.
Tim English, Midwest regional administrator for the USDA Food and Nutrition Service, said poor nutrition during summer months can affect children’s academic performance during the school year.
Klus said for many children who receive free and reduced meals at school, it will be the main source of nutrition for the entire day. “When they participate in school meals… they tend to do better in school, and have fewer sick days and absences; they’re better able to focus on their learning,” Klus said. “In the summer, the same applies.”
In addition, Klus said, children can interact with kids their own age, which helps with development and prevents some of the summer stagnation.
Most sites in the metro-east are located in East St. Louis, though there are sites in Granite City, Belleville, Alton and Alorton. The ISBE website indicates that other sites may be added as charity groups and community centers apply and are approved for funding.
Klus said last year the USDA set a goal to increase the meals by 10 million, and it was surpassed; Illinois alone increased the number of children fed by 11 percent. “We really concentrated our efforts last year and this year as well to increase participation,” she said. “So we’re trying to get the word out.”
Other social service organizations may be providing free lunches as well; for example, SAK ( Serving Area Kids) in Madison County will be serving sack lunches for children in prekindergarten through eighth grade through most of the summer.
Metro-east meal sites for the program include:
▪ Worthen Elementary School in Granite City serves breakfast each weekday morning at 8 a.m., June 8 to July 3;
▪ Transformers United Church of Christ in Alton serves breakfast at 10 a.m. each weekday morning and lunch at 12:30 p.m., June 9 to Aug. 14;
▪ Hough Park in Belleville serves lunch at 11:30 a.m. and an afternoon snack at 4:30 p.m. each weekday, June 8-July 14;
▪ Jackie Joyner Kersee Foundation in East St. Louis serves breakfast at 7:45 a.m. and lunch at 11:30 a.m. each weekday, June 8-July 31;
▪ Forest Village Community Center in East St. Louis serves lunch at 11:30 a.m. weekdays, June 8-July 31;
▪ The John DeShields Center in East St. Louis serves lunch at 12:30 p.m. weekdays, June 8-July 31;
▪ The Orr-Weathers Center in East St. Louis serves lunch at 12:30 p.m. weekdays, June 8-July 31;
▪ Roosevelt Center in East St. Louis serves lunch at 12:30 p.m. weekdays, June 8-July 31;
▪ The Charlie Coleman Community Center in Alorton serves breakfast at 8 a.m. and lunch at noon weekdays, June 23-Aug. 14;
▪ Kenneth Hall Community Center in East St. Louis serves breakfast at 7:30 a.m. and lunch at noon weekdays, June 23-Aug. 14;
▪ Annette Officer Elementary School in East St. Louis serves breakfast at 8:30 a.m. and lunch at noon weekdays, June 1 to July 31;
▪ Dunbar Elementary School in East St. Louis serves breakfast at 8:30 a.m. and lunch at noon weekdays, June 1-July 31;
▪ James Avant Elementary School in East St. Louis serves breakfast at 8:30 a.m. and lunch at noon weekdays, June 1-July 31.
In surrounding areas:
▪ Gillespie High School in Macoupin County serves breakfast at 8:45 a.m. each weekday morning from June 1-26.
In order to qualify, a family of four would have a combined income less than $31,005 for free lunch or $44,123 for reduced lunch. Those guidelines will go up slightly for the 2015-16 school year, to $31,525 for free lunch and $44,863 for reduced lunch. At many summer meal sites, proof of income qualification is not required to receive meals. Families can apply for free and reduced lunch at their local school districts.
SAK locations include: First Presbyterian Church, AME Wesley Chapel, Immanuel UMC on Main Street and Mt. Joy Baptist in Edwardsville; the 81 East 30 Mobile Home Park in Glen Carbon and the corner of Lilac and Cottonwood Circle in Glen Carbon, as well as Main Street UMC, Olin Park, Hellrung Park, James Killian Park and Bethesda Temple in Alton. Lunch will be served at 11:30 a.m. every weekday from June 2 to Aug. 19.
Contact reporter Elizabeth Donald at firstname.lastname@example.org or 618-239-2507.