Children can eat for free at a meal site in their neighborhood

by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Aaron Esau, 11, and his brother Timmy, 10, enjoy lunch at Beaverton City Park put on by the Summer Food Program.This summer, children can enjoy free lunches through the Summer Food Service Program, a federally funded nutrition program open to all kids ages 1 to 18.

In addition to lunch, some sites also offer breakfast and snacks to accompany a day of fun activities.

While many kids enjoy the freedom and fun that comes with school break, summer can spell hunger for some children who rely on school meals. The Summer Food Service Program makes sure kids can eat healthy food during the summer months when school is out.

To make the program welcoming and accessible, meals are served at locations where kids congregate, such as playgrounds, parks, summer schools and community centers.

Many sites offer activities such as games, arts and crafts in addition to meals. Families can find a meal site near them by visiting or calling 211.

“We are very proud of all the partners who operate Oregon’s Summer Food Service Program for making sure kids don’t go hungry during the summer,” said Lesley Nelson, child hunger prevention manager at Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon. “Tough economic times mean that families scramble to provide meals when school is out, and we are working hard to make sure those kids can grow and thrive.”

A recent study by the Food Research and Action Center found that Oregon is one of the top states in providing free meals to hungry children during the summer months, yet serves just a fraction of those who need it. In its annual report, Hunger Doesn’t Take a Vacation: Summer Nutrition Status Report, the center found that on an average day in July 2012, about 36,300 low-income children participated in the summer food program each day, serving just 17.5 percent of children who eat school lunches during the school year.

“If Oregon were to double this percentage, an attainable goal, Oregon would reach an additional 46,000 children and bring an additional $3.2 million in federal dollars to the state,” said Nelson. “Oregon is making good strides toward increasing the number of summer food sponsors and meal sites. In 2012, there were 733 meal sites across the state.” 

Funding for the Summer Food Service Program is provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Meal sites are located in neighborhoods with a high percentage of children eligible for free or reduced-price school meals. Because the neighborhood qualifies, no application or advance registration is needed and all children are welcome.

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