Iowa Reaches More Hungry Kids During the Summer

DES MOINES, Iowa – Hunger prevents some Iowa kids from enjoying the carefree days of summer, but the state is making progress to make food available to more youngsters in need.

The Food Research and Action Center’s annual “Hunger Doesn’t Take a Vacation” report shows nearly 20,000 Iowa children were served by meal programs in July of last year.

Crystal FitzSimons, the director of School and Out-of-School Time Programs at the Center says that’s a 4.4 percent increase over 2015.

“Iowa did that by encouraging sponsors to expand their programs by operating longer during the summer – by adding an additional meal, by adding an additional site that they were serving,” she says. “So, they were actually able to increase participation, even though there was a national decline.”

Participation fell nationally about five percent. Summer Nutrition Programs are available to lower-income kids who qualify for free or reduced-priced lunches during the school year. But in Iowa, just one out of eleven of these children accesses summer meals.

Iowa has more than 400 summer meal sites throughout the state, including churches and community centers. And FitzSimons notes many offer enrichment activities and socialization that keep kids engaged.

“Kids who don’t have access to educational and enrichment programming during the summer return in the fall hungry and further behind, because kids lose academic learning during the summer when they don’t have access to summer programming,” she explains.

About one in six Iowa children is considered “food insecure,” and FitzSimons says outreach efforts should be increased to ensure families are aware of the summer meal programs.

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