School lunch box with healthy food

Fewer than one out of every 10 Colorado children who rely on free or reduced-price lunches during the school year are getting access to the state’s free summer nutrition programs, according to a new report published by a national organization studying hunger. 

The report found that nationally only one in seven children are utilizing the government-funded free summer lunch programs. 

In fact, the report found Colorado ranks as one of the lowest — at number 40 out of all 50 states — in providing federally funded summer meals to children who depend on free or discounted lunches throughout the rest of the year. 

The report, titled “Hunger Doesn’t Take a Summer Vacation,” and published by the Washington, D.C.-based Food Research and Action Center, also said Colorado has made some improvement since 2017, when it ranked 44th among states. 

Taylor Washington with Hunger Free Colorado, a non-profit that seeks to connect families to food resources, credited that progress to the addition of 190 summer meal distribution sites across the state. This summer, 680 sites throughout Colorado are serving about 1.5 million meals to children. That’s 30,000 more meals than the previous summer, according to Washington. 

While Colorado has made some improvement, Washington said some federal policy changes could make summer meals available to more children who need them. 

For example, she said Hunger Free Colorado is advocating for a bill introduced in the House last month, the Stop Child Summer Hunger Act of 2019, which would amend the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act to allow families whose children qualify for free or reduced-rate lunches to get a preloaded debit-like card. They can use the electronic benefits transfer — or EBT — card for extra food throughout the summer. 

Washington said 10 states have participated in a pilot of the act and have reduced child food insecurity by one-third. 

A program like that would benefit students in the far corners of Colorado who may not live close enough to one of the free summer lunch distribution sites. 

“Ideally, we’d like every student who qualifies for free or reduced-price meals to be accessing those throughout the summer,” Washington said. 

Heightened public awareness, better promotion, and adequate transportation would help connect people to meal sites, she said. 

What’s more, Washington said, as teens enter high school, fewer participate in the summer nutrition programs. She’s looking to find ways to encourage children of all ages to participate and understand what’s available to them. 

“It just really makes me try to think what are some other creative ways that we’re reaching more students or getting information into parents hands,” Washington said. 

To find a free summer youth meal distribution site near you, click here. Or, call the Hunger Free Colorado Resource Hotline, toll-free at 855-855-4626 to get connected to food resources across the state.

To read the full report on summer nutrition concerns, click here

This story was originally published by Chalkbeat, a nonprofit news organization covering public education. Sign up for their newsletters here. 

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