When Summer Months Mean Empty Bellies: Area Programs Offer Help for Food Insecure Children
During the school year, over half of the students in Springfield Public Schools are on free or reduced lunch. To combat childhood hunger when school lets out for the summer, SPS along with Ozarks Food Harvest provide various programs offering food to those in need.
“Food insecurity has been identified by our community as a major issue that we want to focus on.”
That’s Teresa Bledsoe of Springfield Public Schools. She explains that 21 school buildings offer free meals in the summer, and not just to those attending summer school.
“Anybody under the age of 18 can come to one of those schools with an adult and eat breakfast and lunch each day,” says Bledsoe.
Three other school buildings, she adds, also offer breakfast and lunch, but at these locations students pay based on eligibility.
“So, if, during the school year you are eligible for free or reduced lunch, you receive it at the same price,” says Bledsoe.
But what about when summer school is not in session, or when it’s the weekend? That’s where organizations like Ozarks Food Harvest come in.
One major offering is the Summer Food Service Program, which serves nearly 50,000 meals and snacks each summer. This program brings food to places like the Boys and Girls Clubs of Springfield, Springfield Community Center, and area YMCAs, according to the OFH.
“This is a really good program to kind of supplement some of those meals kids may not be getting at home or at school,” says Heather Hardinger of Ozarks Food Harvest.
Another offering by this organization is the Mobile Food Pantry, which focuses on traveling to places with limited food pantry offerings.
“So this is something that we take out to a lot of our rural communities,” says Hardinger.
Hardinger says these programs are essential in filling in the gaps during the summer for food insecure children.
“They may not know where their next meal is coming from.”
Those students are not alone. According to the nonprofit Food Research and Action Center, more than 3 million students nationally participated in summer meal programs last summer, a 7 percent increase from the previous year.
Find a Summer Food Service Program location near you, or find out how to donate to one of the programs, here.