For many area students, the start of summer vacation means an increase in free time and a chance to spend more time with friends. It also means a loss of access to the subsidized school meals that many children depend on.
The St. Louis-based nonprofit Operation Food Search aims to fill that gap during the summer months.
It plans to serve 100,000 afternoon meals to children for 10 weeks, beginning June 3. That would be an increase of 8,000 from last summer’s total.
This comes after an expansion of the group’s school-year program that distributes after-school meals and snacks through a network of public libraries.
According to the advocacy group Feeding America, 23.3% of people in St. Louis are food-insecure, meaning they are unsure at any given time where their next meal will come from. In St. Louis County, 13.8% of people are food-insecure; in St. Charles County, it’s 9%.
“Food insecurity exists in every single county, in every single city in the state of Missouri,” said Brian Wieher, director of child & family nutrition for Operation Food Search. “There are some people out there, somewhere, who do not know where their next meal is coming from. They do not know if they’re going to have the means to provide for their family in the coming week. It could be anyone at any time.”
During the summer program, Operation Food Search will offer meals at a network of 14 public libraries in St. Louis, St. Louis County and, for the first time, St. Charles County.
Those locations are augmented with pop-up food pantries, complete with games and educational activities, at 19 locations, from housing developments to schools and public parks.
The organization will expand its school-year program come August, offering after-school meals at Normandy High School for the first time.
“One of the ways that hunger might be manifested in a child’s life is that it might reduce his or her ability to succeed in school,” said Lucinda Perry, director of strategic initiatives at Operation Food Search.
“When they come to school and they haven’t had nutritious food to eat,” Perry said, “studies show that a child’s ability to concentrate is reduced significantly and also their ability to be on their best behavior and focus. Children can act out in all kinds of ways and maybe they just don’t understand, or they don’t know who to tell that they are hungry.”
Jeremy can be found on Twitter @jeremydgoodwin
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