YAKIMA, Wash. - Fewer than one in 10 Washington kids from lower-income families takes advantage of free summer meals available in their area. The numbers are down almost 2 percent from last summer, a trend that concerns children's advocates.
Claire Lane, food security manager with the nonprofit health-education group Within Reach,
says part of the problem is that communities typically rely on school districts for summer food programs, and budget cuts have forced many schools to end, or at least curtail, meal service along with other summer enrichment programs.
"In the past, a school district might say, 'We are running summer school for the three weeks in July, and we're going to run our summer meal site for those three weeks and then all through August.' When they cut back, they said, 'We're only going to run it while we're running summer school.'"
Lane says another concern, especially in rural areas, is that high gas prices make it tough for parents to get children to the meal sites.
Groups fighting hunger have worked hard in Washington to convince cities and charitable organizations to fill the gaps in places where school districts no longer offer free summer meals. They have succeeded, says Lane, and the priority now is to make sure families who need the food know where to find it.
"The number of sponsors and sites have not gone down, but the players have changed. It may be that the program that you've counted on for the last couple of Julys isn't going to be in the same location. You may still have a program in Yakima, but it may not be happening in the same places it used to."
The programs are meant for lower-income kids, but she says no one age 18 or under will be turned away, and no proof of income, address or citizenship is required.
Find the free summer meal locations by calling a toll-free statewide Family Food Hotline, 888-4FOOD-WA (888-436-6392), or going to the website https://resources.parenthelp123.org/service/summer-meals