A growing number of non-profit groups are getting involved in providing free breakfast and lunch to needy kids during the summer. State records show free breakfast and lunch is being served at 385 sites around the state this summer to kids under the age of 18. Officials say 128 different groups were paying for those meals.

While most of the programs are financed by school districts, Ann Feilmann of the Iowa Department of Education says other groups are stepping forward to help.

“We really do appreciate all the phone calls and interest that we’ve had coming in,” Feilmann says. “People are recognizing that there’s a need.”

Twenty more sponsors have stepped forward this summer compared to last. The sites can be located in school districts where at least 50 percent of students qualify for government assistance for free or reduced-price lunches during the school year. Feilmann, who is the Iowa Department of Education’s bureau chief for nutrition and health services, says there’s been an effort by state and federal officials to expand this program.

“We do look for those areas that are underserved and outreach to those areas,” Feilmann says.

The school district in Spencer is among those providing a Summer Meal Program. Food Service Director Laurie Lawson says the kids don’t have to provide information about their family income to get a meal.

“Any day care could bring their kids. The YMCA has, for many years, has brought kids and it’s wonderful,” Lawson says. “We’re here to serve and that’s what we want to do.”

Lawson and her team serve about a thousand lunches and 500 breakfasts each week out of two elementary schools in Spencer. While many of the 385 sites around the state are located in schools, Feiland says some of the meals are distributed out of other facilities, even public parks, and some programs on Fridays provide kids with a bag of food to take home for the weekend.

“Some students in Iowa experience hunger and lack of adequate sources of food,” Feiland says. “Summer Meals provides a safe place to go and get nourishment that’s not readily available.”

Last year the Summer Food Service Program in Iowa served over 611,000 lunches. State officials say less than 10 percent of the Iowa kids eligible for free or reduced-price lunches were served last year by the summer program.

(Addttional reporting by Ryan Long at KICD in Spencer)