Summer is fast approaching, and for children from low-income families, that means an end to the free or reduced price lunches they get in school.
Wednesday, the state Department of Education and the USDA kicked off the annual Summer Meals Program.
Last year, the program fed more than 300,000 meals to children across the Granite State, and organizers expect that number to grow this summer.
Cheri White, administrator for the state Department of Education’s Bureau of Nutrition, joined Morning Edition to talk about the program.
Can you explain how the program works?
Really this summer food service program is a safety net in the state for those kids who really do rely on a breakfast and a lunch during the school day and do not have that ability to have a breakfast or a lunch possibly during the summertime when school is out. This really is a wonderful safety net for some families in our state. There are a variety of ways that food is delivered at each site. It could be in a bagged lunch, or it could be a hot meal that is served.
How many sites do you have across the state?
We have 161 sites currently, however that number is going to grow this year. We do have quite a number of sites that we are taking on in the north area of New Hampshire.
What kind of sites are we talking about? Are they primarily schools?
Not necessarily. It can be churches. It can be boys and girls clubs. It can be summer rec programs. Anywhere where you’re going to find a larger group of kids getting together.
It’s expected that demand for the program will continue to grow this year. How do you keep up with that?
We at this point in time have a good number of sponsors who actually sponsor sites for the summer food service program. We deal directly with the sponsor who then is responsible for each of the sites that is under their administration.
What kinds of meals are children being fed? Are the nutrition guidelines similar to what you’d find in school lunch programs?
Yes, they are quite similar and most especially with the fresh fruits and vegetables, very similar in look. There are five food items that you typically find, which would be milk, protein, grain, fruit, and vegetable. You can find all of those in a meal for summer, as well.
How do you make sure families in need know the program is available?
We do outreach, such as speaking with you today. We also offer handouts and flyers to our sponsors, and the sponsors in turn will do outreach for their particular sites.
You mentioned you’ll be expanding more into the North Country this summer. Do you see certain regions like the North Country that are seeing more demand for the program than other regions of the state?
The north is one of those areas that does have a demand and due to some barriers with the summer food service programs, such as it is sometimes hard to get kids to sites. We now have sponsors who are taking a look at that and breaking down those barriers. The other area of the state where we have seen some growth is in the southwestern area of New Hampshire.