USDA asks local groups to distribute meals to students during summer break

Federal nutrition officials Tuesday called on schools, non-profits, and faith-based organizations all over the country to help feed low-income children this summer.

The United States Department of Agriculture is asking local groups to sponsor a site for the Summer Food Service Program, which provides free meals to low-income children while school is out.

Kids are most likely to go hungry during the summer, when they can't eat lunch at school. USDA Undersecretary Kevin Concannon said.

"We want to make sure that children, especially those who get a substantial portion of their nutritious food through the school programs, have access during the summer gap," Concannon said.

Only a percentage of students eligible for free or reduced lunch participate in the summer program — partly because there aren't enough sites. The Summer Food Service Program targets areas where at least half of the children are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch at school.

In Minnesota last year, more than 500 sites provided almost two million meals. State education officials hope to find more sponsors this year. Sponsors are reimbursed for their costs.

"By offering activities and nutrition during the summer, we're kind of bridging that timeframe during the summer to help keep our children healthy and ready to learn when they return to school in the fall," said Jenny Butcher, who coordinates the Summer Food Service Program in Minnesota.

Interested groups can learn more about the program at an Education Department meeting Wednesday afternoon.

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