Schools, Community Groups Seek To Curb Summer Nutrition Gap
California schools and community organizations are partnering on initiatives that seek to provide low-income children with access to federally funded meals over the summer, HealthyCal reports.
More than 50% of California children receive a free or reduced price lunch during the school year.
However, the majority of such low-income children do not receive federally funded meals during the summer.
A California Food Policy Advocates analysis of California Department of Education data found that more than two million children -- or 84% of individuals who benefit from school lunch programs -- did not use summer lunch programs in 2011.
While the number of California children eligible for free lunches has increased in recent years, the number of children participating in summer nutrition programs has decreased significantly, according CFPA's analysis.
CFPA reported that the federal funding exists for summer nutrition programs, but the state is not using it. For example, California did not seek to obtain $34 million in July 2011 that could have helped expand such programs.
CFPA links the summer nutrition gap with a decrease in summer school programs in California.
Tia Shimada -- a CFPA advocate -- said, "If you look at historical trends, the vast majority of summer meals for low-income kids are served by schools at school sites," adding, "With recent budget cuts, there is much less summer programming."
Details of Initiatives
To help curb the summer nutrition gap, North Monterey County Unified School District last summer began partnering with local parks and a recreation center to help provide free or reduced cost meals to low-income children.
Gloria Arizaga -- who serves food to children at NMCUSD -- said the summer program provides low-income children with "fruits and vegetables" and other types of healthy food that "they don't normally eat."
Some summer lunch providers also offer activities and education to help curb rates of obesity.
Norma Johnson -- program specialist with San Diego Unified School District -- said SDUSD's summer nutrition program includes various activities. She said, "As a school district, we need to make sure the gap has been filled so learning doesnât stop due to lack of nutrition and physical activity."
Last year, SDUSD launched an initiative with the help of the San Diego Food Bank, local farmers and more than 45 other community organizations to provide food at 68 sites for 48 days in the summer. SDUSD also held 38 community barbecues with health resource fairs, fresh fruit and vegetableÂ samples and cooking demonstrations.
Despite the success of such programs, experts say there are not enough summer meal providers.
SDUSD's program -- which had the third-highest number of summer meal participants in the state -- still only served 31% of the district's low-income children in 2011.
Patrice Chamberlain -- director of the California Summer Meals Coalition -- said one of the biggest challenges is informing families about the programs. She said, "The biggest thing we can do is engage credible spokespeople -- teachers, principals, school board members -- to let people know there are safe places to send their kids."Johnson said, "[W]e could do a lot more" to advertise such programs, adding, "We really need more children to come to our sites" (Dayton, HealthyCal, 5/27). This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.