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Illinois falls short in numbers of children fed over the summer

Wed, Jul 3, 2013

Participation in the Summer Nutrition Programs continues to fall short in Illinois, with only 94,915 low-income children receiving summer meals on an average day in July 2012, according to a new national report released June 10.

The Illinois Hunger Coalition (IHC) noted that summer meals only reached 12.8 children for every 100 low-income children who got regular school year meals in 2011-2012.

Illinois’ performance was worse than the national rate, which reached only 1 in 7 low-income children, according to Hunger Doesn’t Take a Vacation, an annual analysis by the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC). The report measures participation in the Summer Nutrition Programs by comparing the number of children receiving summer meals to the number of low-income children receiving school lunch during the regular school year. The FRAC report gives data for all states and looks at national trends; it uses the month of July because all children are typically out of school and lose access to these meals.

Low participation means missed meals for children and missed dollars for the state. If Illinois were to reach 40 children with summer food for every 100 low-income children who get school lunch during the regular school year, Illinois would have fed 201,562 more children every day in July 2012. As a result, the state would have brought in $14,074,034 more federal dollars to do so.
“Illinois is failing to close the summer hunger gap, and children are paying the price,” said Katie Klus, Child Nutrition Program coordinator at the Illinois Hunger Coalition. “It is in everyone’s best interest to ensure that children have adequate nutrition during the summer so they stay healthy and are ready to learn.”

Paula De Lucca, director of Nutrition Services for the Archdiocese of Chicago, which has more than 150 of the sites, said, “Many of the children who rely on school meals during the school year are at serious risk of going hungry during the summer.”

The Illinois Hunger Coalition discussed the findings of the new report June 10 during the opening day of the Hazel Crest Park District’s use as a summer meal site. Joseph Bertrand, executive director of the Hazel Crest Park District, said that “This program lines up with our mission statement by enhancing the quality of life for Hazel Crest citizens. We address concerns of obesity, we teach them to eat slowly, eat less and add fiber to meals, such as vegetables, fruits, grains and other fibrous foods that are filling yet low in calories.”

Diane Doherty, executive director of the Illinois Hunger Coalition, said that several states managed to increase participation and make significant improvements to the quality of the meals through training programs and awards offered to schools and nonprofits that sponsor the food programs. The Delaware Department of Education, for example, created nutrition standards that limited use of processed and fried foods as well as high-sugar cereals. The District of Columbia also offered 10 cents for each breakfast and lunch made with healthier food and five cents for each meal made with locally produced food.

The Summer Nutrition Programs provide free meals to children aged 18 and younger at participating schools, parks, other public agencies, and nonprofits. In Illinois, families can find nearby summer meal sites by calling the IHC’s bilingual (English and Spanish) Hunger Hotline at 1-800-359-2163.

- Suzanne Hanney and prepared materials

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