|
|
|
MailTribune.com
  • Our Opinion: Free meals go begging

    A $400 million summer food program isn't reaching those it's meant to help
  • A federal program that provides free breakfast and lunch to school-age children during the summer is an important effort to make sure low-income children get good nutrition all year long. But the program clearly isn't doing what it was intended to do — at least not in Jackson County.
    • email print
  • A federal program that provides free breakfast and lunch to school-age children during the summer is an important effort to make sure low-income children get good nutrition all year long. But the program clearly isn't doing what it was intended to do — at least not in Jackson County.
    A story in today's Mail Tribune reports that only one in 10 Jackson County children eligible for free or reduced-price school lunches — the target population for the national program — actually takes advantage of the summer meals. And the way the program is structured means many meals may not actually be consumed or may go to children who don't really need the help. That's perfectly acceptable under the rules, but hardly an efficient use of taxpayers' dollars.
    No one wants to see children go hungry or subsist on less-than-nutritious food. And the people working to prepare and serve the summer meals can't be faulted for trying to meet the need.
    But the program is not accomplishing that goal.
    The Summer Food Service Program was established in 1975, and has grown steadily since. In 2012, Congress appropriated nearly $400 million for it.
    Meals are provided in schools and other locations in neighborhoods where at least half of the children qualify for free or reduced-price lunches during the school year. In an effort to ensure low-income children do not feel stigmatized by accepting a government handout, the meals are provided to any child 1 to 18 years old who shows up, regardless of income level.
    That's admirable, but apparently it is not working, if only one in 10 eligible kids is being served.
    Volunteers have taken to carrying lunches to local parks and handing them out to anyone who will take them. That doesn't necessarily get the food to those who need it most, and there's no guarantee the food will get eaten rather than tossed out.
    Handing food out to any kid, regardless of need, does have one outcome. The program is structured so that the operators, whether food service contractors or school districts, are reimbursed only for meals actually served, so a certain number must be distributed to cover the cost of preparing them.
    School districts have made an effort to publicize the meal program, listing locations on June take-home school lunch menus and on websites and posting fliers in the community. It isn't clear why so few children are responding, but transportation problems and the stigma of showing up at a school building for a free handout are possible explanations.
    Whatever the reasons, continuing to prepare meals that won't get eaten doesn't seem to be the answer.
Reader Reaction

      calendar