Kansas ranks low in providing summer meals to children
Hutchinson Advocates of providing summer meals to children in low-income areas say Kansas must find ways to provide more meals during the summer.
Kansas provides seven free summer lunches for every 100 school children who are eligible for free or reduced-priced lunches at school. Only Oklahoma ranked lower in providing free summer lunches, The Hutchinson News reported. Fifty percent of public school students in Kansas are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches.
A federal effort called Summer Food Service Program funds the meals for children up to age 18 but 35 counties in Kansas do not have a summer meals program site, with most of those counties in western Kansas, according to advocates who met this week in Hutchinson at the last of five summer meals summits held in recent weeks.
Rebekah Gaston, director of the Childhood Hunger Initiative with the Kansas Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, a nonprofit based in Lawrence, said the summits as a way to encourage communities to plan for summer meals programs next year. The Kansas Department of Education, which oversees the Summer Food Service Program in Kansas, participated in the meetings, and the Kansas Health Foundation funded the project.
Lynn Kasper, of Wilson, said the community of about 700 residents met the challenges of finding sites, volunteers and grants for the meals. The next goal is to fund transportation so children outside Wilson can receive meals, she said.
Transportation is one of the major barriers for summer meals programs because buses that bring children to school during the academic year aren't available.
The meals are provided at sites ranging from schools to churches to parks. The Hutchinson school district used a downtown splash park as a fifth meal site last summer and it drew about 50 children a day.
Advocates suggested an added activity such as arts or exercise will attract more children. While adults can pay to eat the meals, some suggested fundraising to cover the adults' costs.
"If you feed the parents, you're going to have more kids show up," said Debi Kreutzman, of the Kansas Food Bank.
All children, regardless of household income, are eligible for the lunches, which must be eaten on site. While some sites provide only lunch, the federal program offers an option of furnishing breakfast.
"I remember thinking, 'No way I can take that on,' " said Debbi Davidson, of the Arkansas City Recreation Center. That was more than a decade ago and the Arkansas City program now feeds 350 people a day during the summer.
"It is one of the most rewarding things for your community," Davidson said.