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Families urged to take part in free summer meals


Deputy Superintendent Rob Saxton announced Monday the upcoming Summer Food Service Program, which provides free, nutritious meals to students over the summer months here in Oregon.

During the school year, many students rely on the free and reduced-priced breakfasts and lunches that schools provide to supplement what’s available at home.

Over the summer, there are free meal sites set up throughout the state to help ensure that students have access to nutritious food even when they aren’t in school. Similar meal programs exist around the country to combat student hunger.

“Childhood hunger is a huge issuer here in Oregon, with many children and their families not knowing where their next meal will come from,” Saxton said. “For some students, the meals they receive at school may be the only reliable, nutritious food they can count on.

“The arrival of summer can increase concerns over food insecurity as families struggle to put food on the table. These meals help provide vital nutrition so that our students can stay healthy and hunger-free over the summer months.”

In the 2013-14 school year, 54% of students were eligible for free and reduced-price lunch. That’s up from 43% a decade ago.

As our state has continued to recover from the Great Recession, many families have struggled to make ends meet, and the meals offered at school can provide critical access to reliable, nutritious food for Oregon students.

However, participation in the summer meals provided around the state is much lower than school-year free and reduced-price meal participation. This indicates that there are many more students who could benefit from access to nutritious meals over the summer months.

Nationally 6 out of 7 eligible kids do not get free summer meals. Increasing awareness of and access to these programs can have a significant impact on combating childhood food insecurity.

“Our program helps many struggling families bridge the gap when school is out,” said Misty Crawford, nutrition director at the St. Helens School District. “Our participants love the park settings and the games we have available. We ask for participant feedback each year, and we receive so may thank you responses. Families express that they don’t know how they would have made it through the summer without the program. With SNAP cutbacks we are more important than ever.”

Food insecurity is defined as the state of being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. This is a huge issue nationally with 48.8 million Americans, including 16.2 million children, living in households that lack the means to get enough nutritious food on a regular basis. According to data from 2011, 27.3% of Oregon students suffered from food insecurity, a rate well above the national average.

“Food insecurity impacts students’ health, well-being, and ability to learn,” said Saxton. “If we want our students to be prepared to excel in school, we need to ensure they have their basic needs met, including access to sufficient, nutritious food year-round.

“No child should go hungry or have to worry about where their next meal will come from. I want to encourage everyone to help spread the word about the free summer meals that are available throughout the state. Together, we can have a real impact on child hunger in our state.”

The Summer Food Service Program offers free meals to low-income children 18 and under at locations all around the nation including here in Oregon. There are over 500 summer meal sites in Oregon alone. Families can look up meal locations in their area online at: or or by calling the national hunger hotline at 1.866.3hungry or 1.877.8hambre. Meals are available without regard to race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability.

“The smiles on thechildren’s faces as they walk in the door and see the kid-friendly food andawesomely fun books, makes our day and everyday a better day for our community,” said Terri Tucker, food service manager for the Salem-Keizer School District.

We invite community partners, school districts, and media partners to help spread the word about the free summer meals to families in your area. This week launches a national effort to raise awareness about these resources and connect more children to nutritious food.

Want to learn more? Resources on combating childhood hunger and summer meals include:

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