In new statistics released June 7, Idaho followed a national trend in 2010 where fewer children accessed free nutritional food programs—there was a 7.8 percent drop from 2009. But Idaho still outpaced the national average with one in five low-income children in the Gem State participating in a school nutrition program. One in seven children from low-income households accessed free meals.
But officials with the Idaho Hunger Relief Task Force said they're not satisfied. They think communities must still find ways to feed the children who need nutritional support during summer vacation.
“It’s important to get the word out,” IHRTF Director Kathy Gardner said. “There are sites out there that children aren’t using and we don’t know why.”
Gardner guessed that one reason for the local downward trend could be changes in site locations—the decrease in funding for education cut some summer school programs that normally hosted free summer lunches. While fewer schools are able to support summer nutrition programs, other organizations have stepped up the fill the gap.
Gardner said the public may still not know about many sponsors open throughout the Treasure Valley, including the Boys and Girls Club of Idaho and the Idaho Foodbank; Boise and Meridian school districts are providing meals in their cafeterias at select schools. Statewide for 2011, 75 sponsors are participating in free summer meal programs. Gardner hopes that with more community support and publicity, parents will become aware that these services are available for their children. Lunches are provided to anyone under the age of 18—no paper work, no questions asked.
The Boys and Girls Club of Idaho, whose program includes education on good nutrition, was one of the few organizations to see an increase in participation in 2010. The group received the U.S. Department of Agriculture Sunshine Award for its efforts. The Idaho Foodbank has its own plans to increase participation by adding more park site locations and is including a van service this summer that will distribute lunches to children in low-income housing areas.
“I would hope that all sponsors could collaborate to promote the programs available throughout the state,” Gardner said.