Free Summer Meals Support Local Kids’ Nutrition Needs

By D. Aileen Dodd Contributing Writer | 7/12/2013, 9:25 a.m.
More than 235,000 Georgia children through age 18 will receive free breakfast and lunch thanks to the Seamless Summer Option program.

Summer break for kids can mark the beginning of a parent’s struggle to provide steady meals for their families. Thousands of metro Atlanta children face hunger each day because their parents cannot afford adequate food.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is partnering with the Georgia Department of Education and several nonprofits to continue to supply hot meals to needy kids over the summer.

More than 235,000 Georgia children through age 18 will receive free breakfast and lunch thanks to the Seamless Summer Option program. The free meals are being provided at nearly 2,200 sites across Georgia, including some metro Atlanta schools, summer camps and community organizations.

"For some children, school meals are the only meals they receive,” said Sommer Delgado, the Communications Project Manager for the state DOE’s School Nutrition Program. “So when school is out for the summer, we feel it is our responsibility to continue being a crucial part in preventing childhood hunger. We take part in Seamless Summer because we believe the health and well-being of Georgia's children is a year-long endeavor."

More than one in five Georgia kids live in poverty, with parents who are unemployed or under-employed.

A national study on child hunger released last week -- “The 2013 KIDS COUNT Data Book” -- reported that Georgia fell six spots to 43rd in the nation for child well-being when adequate access to food, health care and quality education was measured.

According to the report, 866,000 kids live in households where parents lack full-time, year-round employment. That figure is nearly 25 percent higher than it was four years earlier.

“We’re still reeling from the harsh impact of a poor economy,” said Gaye Smith, executive director of Georgia Family Connection Partnership.

“Our state has the highest percentage of foreclosure sales in the nation, and home prices continue to languish. But we also know that the effects of the recession are intensified by generational poverty.”

Keeping children fed over the summer can help them maintain healthy lifestyles that can prepare them for learning when school resumes. Education is key to ending the cycle of poverty, educators say.

Public schools educated nearly 1.7 million students last school year. More than 60 percent of students were eligible to receive free or reduced price lunches. Schools provided 500,000 breakfasts and 1.18 million lunches daily. More than 62 percent of those meals were provided for free through the School Breakfast Program and national School Lunch Program.

Several local school districts and community agencies are working to help metro Atlanta families curb hunger.

A Quality Care for Children of Atlanta area projects it will serve 68,000 free meals and snacks to more than 900 through its Summer Food Service partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Fulton County Schools also will serve thousands of breakfasts and lunches at several campuses through July 16, including: Mimosa Elementary; Mt Olive Elementary; Campbell Elementary; and Paul D. West Middle School.

In Marietta, free summer meals will be provided through July 22 at 19 locations including Pine Street Missionary Baptist Church; Turner Chapel AME; Boys and Girls Club of Metro Atlanta; Los Colinas Apartments; Harmony Trace Apartments; Marietta Middle School; and Hickory Hills Elementary School

The DeKalb County Recreation, Parks & Cultural Affairs Department will offer meals through the Summer Food Service Program through July 26. Nearly 199,000 meals were served up at 54 sites last year, officials said.

More locations across Georgia are being added to the program. As long as school is out for the summer, new sites may qualify to participate in the summer meals program if they meet requirements, said Delgado.

"More than 3,000 locations statewide will participate in the Summer Meals Service,” Delgado said. “The goal is to do as much as possible to increase district participation so that more children are fed daily."

To find Summer Meal Program sites dial 211 or call the National Hunger Hotline at 1-866-3-HUNGRY. You can also receive information about local summer meals sites by texting “FoodGA” to 877-877.