With school out, summer meals program ramps up

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As school winds down across the state and summer break begins, so does access to a warm healthy meal for many students.

In Mississippi, roughly 69 percent of public school students qualify for free lunch during the school year. The Summer Food Service Program offers a remedy for this during the summer months when lunches are not readily available.

“When school is out there is really no mechanism (for feeding) and a lot of those students depend on that breakfast and lunch during the school year,” said Scott Clements, director of the office of child nutrition and healthy schools for the Mississippi Department of Education. “This is a way to get a good balanced meal during the summer.”

About half of the state’s public school districts participate in the federally funded program, as do some municipalities, non-profit organizations and churches, he said. Last year the 863 sites across Mississippi provided 2.3 million meals statewide, Clements said.

Any child under the age of 18 is eligible to participate.

“In the summer the kids will just walk there, so it’s fantastic,” Clements said. “The great thing about the sites is it’s a safe place for the kids in a supervised environment.”

Clements said the sites see the most traffic in June, when many schools have summer school programs that draw students to school daily.

“We struggle in Mississippi with the numbers sometimes because we are so rural,” Clements said. “You have to have a certain number of kids participate for it to be an economically viable site.”

With no school buses around in the summer months, it can be difficult to get to the program locations, but Clements said it works well in urban settings where students can just walk to the schools or locations. In the Jackson metro area, 111 sites provided 369,000 meals last summer.

The Jackson Public School District has several summer feeding sites open from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. from June 4 to July 13. Anyone interested in sites nearby can look on this map, call 1-866-348-6479 or text “Summer Meals” to 97779 .