State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell today announced economically disadvantaged children may receive free meals during the traditional summer recess. Nearly 2,900 locations throughout California offer the Summer Food Service and the Seamless Summer Feeding Option programs.
In the Santa Clarita Valley, the free meals will be available at the SCV Boys and Girls Club facilities on Stillmore Street in Canyon Country and Newhall Avenue in Newhall, as well as the Santa Clarita Community Center on Market Street in Newhall.
“I am deeply saddened to see so many families suffering through yet another year of devastating education budget cuts, service cuts, and job and home losses,” said O’Connell. “However, I am pleased that we are still able to help some families stretch their food dollars by providing free and nutritious meals for certain kids and adults. The summer nutrition program provides vital aid to students who would otherwise go hungry, and helps them to return to school in the fall ready to learn.”
During the school year, economically disadvantaged children in California are eligible to receive at least one nutritious meal a day while at school. But when school is out during the long summer recess, many of these children won’t have access to well-balanced and nutritious meals that are important to their growth and development. When children do not receive proper nutrition, they are more likely to become ill and are not able to concentrate or perform well when they are in school. Providing children with nutritious meals when school is not is session helps them to return to school ready to learn and succeed.
In 2007-08, 50.9 percent of California’s public K-12 population, or 3,118,053 students, were enrolled in the state’s free and reduced-priced meal programs. During that same time period, California served a record 770.6 million meals during the school year, which were 28 million more meals than the year before – a 4.5 percent increase. Historically, the state has experienced a 1 percent increase per year. More children are expected to enroll as California’s economic crisis continues. Despite this dramatic rise in the need for school lunches, only 541,000 low-income children ate a federally funded summer meal last July.
“We have our work cut out for us,” added O’Connell. “California’s summer meal programs in 2008 served less than 25 percent of the children eating a free or reduced priced school lunch during the school year – making California 47th among the 50 states in the proportion of eligible children served. It’s critical that communities work together to ensure access to these important meals and snacks this summer because so many districts have been forced to cancel their summer sessions, which often provide meals to hungry students as well as other children in the community.
“At a time when communities are competing for federal stimulus funds, the Summer Food Service program offers California a win-win situation. If California’s summer meal programs reach 100 percent of the low-income children who consumed a free or reduced-priced school lunch in 2008, an additional $181 million in federal reimbursement would come into those programs and boost California’s local economy. And we do not need to compete or apply for these funds.”
Children 18 years and younger in low-income areas may receive free meals through the Summer Food Service and the Seamless Summer Feeding Option programs. Both are federally funded programs administered through the California Department of Education. The programs operate when school is not in session for 15 days or more. The summer meal sites must serve meals that include milk, fruits, vegetables or juice; grain products; and meat or a meat alternate. The program allows sites to serve each day: two meals; a meal and a snack; or if at a camp, three meals a day.
To help parents more easily find a location to take their children, the California Department of Education has an interactive Summer Meal Service Sites Web page with a map of California. Visitors may click any location on the map to reveal a list of Summer Food Service programs near them. The interactive Web page contains contact names and telephone numbers where parents may get more information. The list is updated throughout the summer. To access the Web page, please visit http://www.cde.ca.gov/ds/sh/sn/summersites09.asp.