TOPEKA CAPITAL JOURNAL: Kansas lags behind most states on anti-hunger program

By Celia Llopis-Jepsen
July 17, 2016

Kansas expanded efforts to combat childhood hunger last summer, but advocacy groups want the state to do better.

Eight percent or less of Kansas children from low-income families received meals last July through federally funded, locally operated summer nutrition programs.

The Food Research and Action Center, a Washington, D.C.-based group that seeks solutions to child hunger and undernutrition, releases annual reports on summer nutrition programs across the country. The group advocates for expanding access to such programs.

Last year’s report pegged Kansas at 50th in the U.S. among the states and Washington, D.C, in terms of summer meal outreach. This year’s report, released this week, indicates upward of 2,000 more children were served last July than the previous year. This put Kansas at 48th in the U.S.

Kansas Appleseed, a justice center focused on serving vulnerable populations, said the state still has much progress to make.

“It’s very positive news,” Rebekah Gaston, an attorney at the organization, said in a news release. “But the program is still falling short of the need.”

The annual Food Research & Action Center report compares ratios of children who are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches during the school year to the average daily number of children served in July.

In Kansas, average daily participation was about 15,600 last July, compared to the 190,200 children in the state who qualify based on their parents’ low income for free or reduced-price lunches.

Summer food sites are open to all minors regardless of parents’ income levels. The sites are located in areas with higher rates of low-income families.

Leaving the program open to all families is meant to avoid stigma that could undermine the purpose of the program by discouraging parents from bringing their children.

A key obstacle to expanding access to summer meals in Kansas has been the lack of sites in many rural areas. Last summer, 35 of Kansas’ 105 counties didn’t have summer nutrition programs. This summer, 23 counties lack them.

Parents can find a complete list of summer meal sites on the Kansas State Department of Education website: https://ksweb.ksde.org/SFSPLocationsASP/SFSP/SFSP_Menus/SFSP_Locations.asp

Local organizations — such as churches, schools and community centers — interested in establishing summer meal sites must apply via the Kansas State Department of Education.

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