The end of the school year is a time when most children rejoice.

For them, summertime means no homework and long days of playing outside with friends.C260E5E460B44FDC89299000581FE398

However, for the millions of children who rely on free or reduced-price meals at school, summer means new worries.

When they can’t rely on a meal at school, these children – and their parents – are forced to worry where and how they will get their next meal.

That’s why summer feeding programs are so vital.

But in 2012, only one in seven kids who ate a free or reduced-price breakfast and lunch during the school year also participated in a summer meal program.

That means of the 21 million kids who are eligible, only 3 million of them are receiving meals in the summer.

With this alarmingly low participation in summer meals programs, hunger advocates are making a new push to close the gap between summer meals and school meals.

The Summer Food Service Program is working hard to feed more kids in our area this summer by selecting both Missouri and Illinois as “target” states.

This means they are giving both states special attention and extra funding to promote and increase the availability of summer meals to those in need.

This funding is being used to open summer meal sites in areas that previously didn’t have one. It is also making it easier to find the summer feeding site closest to you.

Summer meal programs are a great opportunity to feed children during the summer months when parents may not have the resources to provide those additional meals.

Summer feeding sites offer well-balanced meals to children in need. Many sites even provide a safe place for children to meet friends and participate in fun activities.

Most sites only require a child to be 18 years of age or younger in order to be eligible to receive free meals. Still, we recommend calling the individual site before sending a child.

How to find the summer meal program closest to you:

In Missouri, visit https://gis.dhss.mo.gov/Website/AGS_summerFood/summerFood.html or use the Missouri SFSP Mobile Map App.

In Illinois, visit https://www.SummerMealsIllinois.org, text FoodIL to 877877, or call 1-800-359-2163.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact me at (314) 292-5767.

By Kelly Hall, RD, LD

IL School Breakfast Coordinator at the St. Louis Area Foodbank and registered dietitian.