Kentucky ranks 48th among states in percentage of kids getting summer meals from schools, but participation grew last year

Fewer than 8 percent of the Kentucky children who qualify for a summer meal program got such meals last summer, despite the availability of federal funds for it, according to a report from the Food Research & Action Center.

The report says that for every 1,000 children who ate school lunch during the regular school year, only 77 low-income children in Kentucky ate summer meals last year, based on average daily participation. That was 48th among the states, beating only Mississippi and last-place Oklahoma.

However, among the low-performing states, Kentucky was the only one to improve last year, based on figures for July, the middle month of the program. It served 10.3 percent more children and was one of 29 states to improve, the report said.

The report said the average daily participation in Kentucky last year was 25,437, compared to 23,057 in 2014.

“It’s very positive news that summer meals have been reaching more children,” Tamara Sandberg of the Kentucky Association of Food Banks said in a news release. “Kentucky can build on this progress by redoubling outreach efforts throughout this summer to make sure that children — and their parents — are aware of this valuable program. The summer nutrition programs can make a huge difference for the hundreds of thousands of children in our state whose families struggle to afford enough food.”

More school districts took part in the program last year than the year before. “The state had 149 sponsors in 2015 (up 8.8 percent from 2014) and 1,812 sites (up 69 percent),” reports Jonathan Greene of The Richmond Register.

In Madison County, schools have about 21 locations, and Berea College and Grow Appalachia have a five-location program for Berea children. “We have a lot of students in need,” County Schools Food Service Director Scott Anderson told the Register. “We see a lot of kids coming to school hungry. A lot of students tell us that this (school lunch) might be their only meal.”

Mike Sullivan, who manages the program for the Kentucky Department of Education, said, “Just as learning doesn’t end when the school year ends, neither does a child’s need for good nutrition. Without the Summer Food Service Program and the wonderful sponsors, thousands of children would not get the nutrition they need during the summer months. The development of these children depends in large part on making sure they get nutritious meals all year long.”

For a PDF of the report, click here.

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