Summer Feeding Program Starts, But Outreach Concerns Remain

USDA and Daviess County school officials say the program helps thousands, but many still don't know about it.
School's out for western Kentucky students, but the cafeteria's still open for kids wanting a free meal. Owensboro schools are kicking off their summer food service programs today. Officials say more kids are getting free summer meals, but many are still unaware of the program.

Daviess county school officials say the demand for free meals through the USDA's summer food service program, shows no sign of stopping.

"Today, we're serving about 4,000 meals in this area. And I would say, five years ago, it was more like 1,200 meals in this area," says Lisa Sims, School Nutrition Director of Daviess County Public Schools.

The USDA and school officials kicked off this year's program at Owensboro High School. Sims says 125,000 meals were served to nearly 3,500kids last summer.

"We've got to make sure that we not only eat, but we eat food that's going to give us that energy,"says Doctor Janey Thornton of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  She says more should be taking advantage of the program.  Only 16% percent of income eligible kids participate in the program.

"I think a challenge here in Kentucky, as in many areas, would be so many of our children are rural. And it can be difficult at times to be able to connect the food to the kid," she says.

But officials say to increase participation, they're working with schools, food banks, and other community groups to get the word out about the program.

"We have been doing some pilots for the last couple of years with actually putting additional funds for food on people's SNAP cards so that more money would be available to provide healthy food for kids," Thornton adds.

Sims adds there are nearly 70 locations hosting the summer food program across Daviess County.

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