Local school districts fight hunger during summer vacation - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Local school districts fight hunger during summer vacation

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MADISON (WKOW)-- In Wisconsin about 47 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunch during the school year, but what happens when school lets out for the summer?

Some area districts are participating in a federal initiative called the Summer Food Service Program. In 2012 congress devoted about $389 million to the program.

In Janesville, about 48 percent of students in the Janesville district qualify for free or reduced lunch, and that need doesn't end with the final bell before summer vacation.

“They grow year-round,” said Jim Degan, the manager of school nutrition for the Janesville School District. “They're active year-round. If they're going to learn and retain things, day to day, they need to have proper nutrition to do it and it doesn't stop the first week in June and start again the 1st of September. There's all of those days in between.

So the district participates in the federal Summer Food Service Program, which allows students to get breakfast, lunch and snacks free of charge. They don't need to register. The only requirement is they must be 18 years old or younger.

“Three years ago we served about 20,000 meals for the Summer Food Service Program,” Degan said. “This last year, we served about 55,000 meals. My projections for this year are 55,000 to 60,000 meals.”

Degan says that's in part because of a growing need and an expansion of the program.

“We've strategically placed locations around the city for free feeding sites and the reason for that is hunger doesn't know any neighborhood,” Degan said.

In 2013 about 2.3 million meals were served statewide through the summer food program. Madison Metropolitan School District also participates, and last summer, they served 175,000 meals.

“Research shows if kids are not properly fed over the summer months, it can get in to a bad cycle, which doesn't give them the best opportunity to learn once school starts up again in the fall,” said Steve Youngbauer, the director of food and nutrition for the Madison Metropolitan District.

Youngbauer says the need in the community is obvious, with about 50 percent of Madison School District kids on free or reduced lunch.

“I think that when you look at unemployment, poverty, those things all impact families,” Youngbauer said. “And when families have to make choices between things like food and medicine, those are very difficult choices and if we're able to provide some relief, in the area of providing good, nutritious meals, that's a wonderful thing.”

Both Youngbauer and Degan say there is likely an even greater need for summer feeding in their communities than past turnout indicates. So they are working to get word out about the program.

"Our traditional program runs for six weeks during the summer, it's a fairly compact piece of time,” Youngbauer said. “And we also have a number of new families in the Madison area every summer and we'd like ot make sure they have the opportunity to participate as well."

“We're here to feed children and if there is a need in a household, eliminating the food insecurity, getting them over the hump, then those are things we want to take advantage of, we want to help,” Degan said.

Both districts will have information online about the location of summer lunch program sites. The program operates at many schools, community centers and area parks.

For information on Janesville click here. Details about the Madison program can be found here.

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