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Advocates Hope More Kids Take Advantage Of Summer Meals

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Summer meals are available to kids across the state at local meal sites. But program organizers say many kids still go hungry when they're not in school.

While the school year is winding down, food insecure kids who normally rely on school lunches do have some options. There will be hundreds of meal sites across Iowa this summer where children can go to eat at no charge.

The Iowa Department of Education's Stephanie Dross is overseeing state's summer meal program. She says there are no requirements to qualify and any kid can eat for free.

“We know that there is a wide variety of reasons many reasons why children need access to healthy meals. Food insecurity and having limited food access is one of them. But we also might have children who might have limited skills in food production. They might have two very active working parents,” Dross said.

Dross says meal site sponsors strive to meet kids where they are, by bringing their operations to the schools, playgrounds, community centers and pools where kids spend their time in the summer.

“And so we have more and more sponsors trying to go out into the community, right where the kids are in their home environment. So we’re seeing apartment complexes, trailer parks," Dross said. "We also have some sponsors that actually have a renovated school bus or a food truck.”

According to Dross, some 195,000 Iowa kids are eligible for free and reduced lunch, some 40 percent of the state's total K12 enrollment. In some Iowa districts, 3 out of 4 students qualify for the low income meal program, and in some individual schools with the greatest need, 9 out of 10 students are at risk of going hungry. 

Despite the need, according to the DOE just 10 to 15 percent of kids who qualify for free and reduced lunch take advantage of the summer program. Dross is hoping the effort will reach more children this year.

Families can get more information by texting FOOD or COMIDA to 877877 or by searching for nearby meal sites on the USDA's Summer Food Rocks website.

Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter