With many schools set to break for the summer, U.S. Senator Jack Reed is working to ensure children at risk of going hungry have access to nutritious foods throughout the year. Reed says federal, state, and local governments are teaming up with non-profits and community partners to help provide over 312,000 meals this summer to students in need. Offering free, nutritious meals also provides an incentive for children to participate in summer enrichment programs, ensuring that kids are well-fed and have a safe environment where they can engage in recreational and educational activities.
Reed, a member of the Appropriations Committee, has worked at the federal level to provide funding for the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), a federal nutrition program run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), to help serve Rhode Island during the summer months. Last summer, the state received over $840,000 for the SFSP to serve more than 8,000 kids per day at 184 sites around the state.
The federal Summer Food Service Program is open to any child 18 years of age and younger, and gives them the opportunity to enjoy a free, nutritious meals for most of the summer. The program is administered by the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) in conjunction with community partners throughout the state, such as the Providence Department of Parks & Recreation and the Rhode Island Community Food Bank, and operates Mondays through Fridays. Different cities have different kickoff dates, with most starting around June 30 or July 1. Rhode Islanders wishing to learn more about the program should visit RIDE's website or call the National Hunger Hotline toll free at 1-866-3-HUNGRY, or 1-877-8-HAMBRE. Rhode Islanders may also call the United Way of Rhode Island information line at 2-1-1.
"This program makes a real difference for these families and is a smart investment in healthy communities," said Reed, who says the cost of the program depends on the number of meals served, but the state is reimbursed by federal USDA funds. "No child in this great state of ours should be forced to go hungry. I want to ensure every kid who needs a healthy meal is getting one and every family that needs help knows it is available."
Reed is seeking to improve outreach efforts and spread the word to ensure all children who need nutrition assistance may participate Summer Food Service Program. He noted that Rhode Island is one of several states that has received technical assistance from USDA to help boost participation. USDA officials are working with Rhode Island and key stakeholders to develop action plans to improve program participation. The goal this year is to increase participation by as much as 10 percent throughout the state and add over a dozen sites to improve access.
During the school year, over 78,000 Rhode Island students participate in the national school lunch program. However, a recent report from the Food Research and Action Center showed that only 14.2 percent of Rhode Island students who received meals during the school year were reached by summer nutrition programs last summer.
"Kids should enjoy the summer, but we don't want them taking a break from good nutrition. This program brings kids together in a positive environment, gives them a chance to get a square meal, and keeps people working throughout the summer," noted Reed.
The USDA and RIDE are also looking for sponsors in areas of need to register as food providers. Sponsorship is limited to public or private nonprofit school food authorities, state or local governments, public or private non-profit colleges or universities that are operating the National Youth Sports Program, public or private non-profit residential summer camps, and private non-profit organizations that operate special summer programs. Sponsors may hire a vendor, but most prepare the meals themselves and are reimbursed through the state at a rate of about $3.50 per lunch served, and about $2 per breakfast served.