Area schools like senator’s aid to feed needy kids on summer break

Area school districts already using mobile summer lunch programs to feed needy families said they welcome a recent federal bill that would bring more money and resources.

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) joined a bipartisan group of senators in introducing legislation to make federal child nutrition programs more efficient, flexible and better equipped to reach children in need during the summer months, according to a statement released this week from Brown’s office.

Brown’s bill, the Hunger-Free Summer for Kids Act of 2019 will add flexibility to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), which offers children from low-income families free lunch and snacks in the summer.

This week saw the launch of Middletown Schools’ food truck and school system now joins Lakota, Fairfield and Hamilton schools’ programs delivering food to students from low income families in various communities with their school districts.

Brown said currently “children must travel to a central location and eat their meals together. However, in rural areas, it can be difficult for children to reach a site, if a particular site even exits. And in suburban and urban areas, inclement weather or public safety concerns can keep children from these sites, causing them to miss out on a meal.”

By providing additional flexibility to summer food service providers and working families, this legislation will ensure that fewer children go hungry during the summer.

“Ohio children should have access to nutritious meals all year-round, not just during the school year,” said Brown. “This bill would ensure children in communities across Ohio have access to healthy meals and help to ensure no child goes hungry during the summer months.”

The senators’ Hunger-Free Summer for Kids Act of 2019 proposes two alternative options states can utilize through the program.

The first would allow for meals to be consumed off-site through mobile feeding programs and backpack meal programs.

The other option would authorize the summer Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) program which would provide eligible families $30 per summer month per child, with a maximum of $100 per child per year, to purchase eligible food items from Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) approved retailers. In USDA pilot programs, summer EBT was shown to reduce child hunger by over 30 percent.

Elizabeth Beadle, spokeswoman for Middletown Schools, said the district “launched the Middie Meal Machine food truck to better reach our students.”

“While we are grateful for the federal food programs and summer lunch programs, we welcome measures to ensure more students can receive meals,” Beadle said of the senate bill.

Three years ago, Lakota Schools was the first in Butler County to use food trucks – in their case converted school buses – to deliver health lunches to needy students who usually are fed during the school year through free and reduced school meal programs.

“Lakota’s summer lunch program is federally funded. As such, any additional support we receive for the program would be welcomed so that we can then help more of our families in need,” said Lakota Spokeswoman Betsy Fuller.

Jeff Madden, director of Fairfield Schools’ student services, likes the proposed law.

“Flexibility in federal programs, especially the ones proposed in this bill may help children and families meet their nutritional needs at a greater level,” said Madden.

“These proposals seem to enhance the current program by providing some reasonable flexibility. We look forward to seeing where this bill goes and evaluating the impact it might have on kids,” he said.

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