About nine in every ten Iowa children who are eligible for free meals during the summer break aren’t eating those meals.
Stephanie Dross, a consultant for the Iowa Department of Education, says community groups offer summer meal sites all across the state, but for several reasons, tens of thousands of children don’t take part.
“We know that in the state of Iowa, we have over 200,000 children who are eligible for free and reduced-price meals during the school year,” Dross says. “When you compare that to our summer program, we average about 21,000 children on an average summer day. So, as you can tell, there’s a fairly significant gap.”
According to Dross, since school buses aren’t picking kids up for class during the summer months, many of those children can’t get a ride to get a meal.
“Some of it is the knowledge from families as to the availability of sites and where those site locations are,” Dross says. “We also know there are transportation barriers across the state, both in rural and urban locations.”
Still, some areas -are- able to access buses that bring the kids in. Some locations are also able to offer activities for the students in addition to the meals, which helps to boost attendance.
“The organizations that sponsor the summer food service program can choose to serve up to two meals or a meal and a snack per day,” Dross says. “The most commonly participated in meal is the lunch service but we also have lots of organizations across the state that do both breakfast meals and snacks throughout the day.”
Another option is setting up serving sites at farmers markets, in addition to making connections with medical facilities.
For more information and to find locations for meal sites in your part of Iowa, call the Hunger Hotline at 866-3-HUNGRY, or text the word “food” to 877-877.