For many students summer means freedom from school, but it can also mean hunger.
During the school year, many children receive up to two nutritious meals a day through free or reduced lunch programs. Organizations throughout the St. Louis region are working to make sure low-income children continue to receive those essential meals even when school is out of session.
The Summer Food Service Program provides meals to children 18 and under. Youth in the program typically participate in free or reduced lunch during the school year.
Ryan Hobart is the spokesman for the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. He said during the summer, children might not have food regularly available to them. “This summer food program gives them more of an option to make sure they have somewhere to go and have lunch every day that’s nutritious,” Hobart said.
There are dozens of sites through the St. Louis area that host the meals. The Missouri Department of Health has created a map detailing the schools, churches and community centers that provide meals.
Gerald Jones is the program coordinator for the Northwest Summer Youth Enrichment Sports and Athletic Camp at Northwest Academy. The program gives children the opportunity to learn about sports they not have exposure to in school, such tennis, hockey and volleyball.
Jones said the academy has participated in the summer food program for several years. He said they started serving meals four years ago, and demand has been high enough in the past, that they’ve had to shut the doors.
“We signed up for about 50 meals,” Jones said. “That 50 meals went from 50 to 75 to probably 125 by the end of our two month program.”
So far this year, they are serving around 66 children, but they expect to see more as summer school sessions end.
Jones said it’s important for children to be properly nourished. “That’s what we are trying to do and the most important thing is we are trying to fill their stomachs up so our kids are can be put in a position where they can be their best selves.”
He said the northwest community is lacking a lot of resources and he feels lucky to be able to provide youth something so essential for growth.