For the past three years, fewer children in Arkansas have gone without food, thanks to the state's collaboration with national, state and local hunger organizations. Much of this success has come through programs based in our schools. In one such program, children take backpacks full of food home with them over the weekends. Making sure our children have proper nutrition has far-reaching implications for our education system and for Arkansas's future.
When schools let out for the summer, our efforts to feed children become more challenging, but we are making strides. Through the federal Summer Food Service Program, children can receive the same high-quality meals in the summer months as they get during the school year. Last summer, there were more than 500 summer feeding sites throughout our state, meaning that nearly 28,000 kids found a nutritious meal each day. Our improvement in those numbers led to recognition from the USDA, but many other Arkansas children still do not have dependable access to food in the summer. In fact, last summer, nearly one-third of Arkansas counties did not have a single feeding site.
If we are to end childhood hunger in Arkansas, we must continue that improvement and reach more hungry children. That will require the help of churches, schools, nonprofit organizations, government agencies and others. Local sponsors oversee the production and distribution of meals to children at sites that can include schools, churches, parks and playgrounds. Organizations that qualify as sponsors receive the funds to pay for the children's meals and snacks. Sponsors also receive training and technical assistance to help get started and operate the program.
Although we need more summer feeding sites throughout the state, the Arkansas Department of Human Services has targeted South Arkansas as the region most in need of additional volunteer organizations. If your organization would like to become involved, more information is available through the DHS Web site at humanservices.arkansas.gov. The application deadline to participate this summer is April 15.
More than one-in-four children in our State remains uncertain about whether there will be food for the family's next meal. This is a sad statistic, but the Summer Food Service Program helps prove that we can change that statistic. For years, Arkansas organizations have stepped up to help us feed more people. Your help can improve the lives of our children and our society.
No child or person of any age deserves to go without food. Lack of nutrition during the summer months may set up a cycle for poor student performance once school begins again. Hunger also makes children more prone to illness and long-term health issues. It's our responsibility to make sure that kids get the resources they need to grow into good students and productive adults. By making sure no kids go hungry in our state, we can insure they get the same opportunities that so many of us have enjoyed.