By John Schlageck, Kansas Farm Bureau
For many children summer vacation zoomed by too quickly and they’re not excited about the new school year that is about to begin. Others are looking forward to school starting so they have something to eat.
For a growing number of Kansas youngsters, summer isn’t a carefree time. For them summer isn’t fun in the sun, swimming at the pool, sports, picnics and vacation. Children who rely on free or reduced-fee lunches during the school year often struggle to find enough to eat during the summer.
Too many students do not eat regular meals when school is out of session. Some educators say they see a real learning gap at the start of the school year between students who had enough to eat during the summer break and the ones who struggled.
To address the serious needs of these Kansas children, the USDA, school districts, and several anti-poverty groups partner to provide summer meals. But last year, about half of all the summer meal sites in the state were located in the four largest counties. Children living in 35 counties were not being served at all.
Fifty percent of Kansas students qualified for free or reduced-price lunches in 2014, according to the Kansas State Department of Education. Each year, more students rely upon these nutritious meals throughout the school year.
Still, less than 7 percent of Kansas children who are eligible for these meals; take advantage of summer meal programs, according to the Food Research and Action Center. They rank Kansas 50th out of 50 states in terms of our summer meal outreach.
So, what is the solution?
It’s time to improve the way we feed these children during the summer months. There are more effective and efficient ways to provide students with the nutrition they need.
Kansas is considering a new approach to improve the way to feed students when school is out. Traveling miles from home each day to eat at a designated location requires a working vehicle and money for gas which aren’t always available to low-income children in rural areas.
To address this problem, organizations are looking to provide home-delivered meals. Similar to what Meals on Wheels does for senior citizens.
Another proposal could send children home with meals that could last them until their next visit.
Reauthorization of child nutrition programs in 2015 will also provide an opportunity to feed more students, no matter where they live. Lawmakers in Washington will consider this reauthorization of child nutrition September 17.
As chair of the ag committee, Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts believes, “We must reauthorize these programs so children across America can and will have healthy meals available at school.”
Reauthorization would go a long way to help end childhood hunger in Kansas and America.
John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwestern Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion.