With the school year coming to a close, some students who receive free or reduced-price lunches at school may struggle to get enough food during the summer months.
According to the Division of Child Care and Early Childhood Education of the state Department of Human Services, children of families with incomes below 130 percent of the poverty level are eligible for free meals, and children from families with incomes between 130 percent and 185 percent of the poverty level are eligible for reduced-price meals. Additionally, some schools are establishing food pantries for students and their families.
Last year, the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance found several counties in the state that did not have summer feeding programs for those students, including Izard and Stone counties. The U.S. Department of Agriculture offers free meals for children in the summer at registered summer-meal sites, but there were no meal sites in several Arkansas counties last year.
The Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance has been working with local partners to change the food situation in those counties, and this summer, students will have access to food.
“We’ve been thinking about Stone and Izard counties since last May,” said Jane Adams, out-of-school director for the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance.
Adams said she met with judges and mayors in those counties to see what solution they could come up with for the children.
“They were very supportive,” she said. “I think they weren’t aware this wasn’t happening already.”
The answer to feeding the children in some communities came from an interesting source: senior centers.
“They are already doing Meals on Wheels,” Adams said. “I asked, ‘Can you feed the kids?’”
Janice Crider, director of the Northcentral Arkansas Development Council aging program, said meals for children will be prepared at the senior centers in Stone and Izard county, then either served at the senior center or moved to a park.
“I felt like it was an awesome way to be a service to our community,” Crider said.
The children will be served smaller portions of the meals served at the senior centers. Some examples include beef tips and gravy, spaghetti, fish and meatloaf.
As time goes on, some substitutions may be made to better suit children’s palates.
“Like on pinto-bean day,” Crider said, “we may try to sub some of that out.”
The generation gap is obvious between seniors and children, but Crider said the Northcentral Arkansas Development Council is always willing to work for the good of the general population.
“At the base, we are a community-action program, so we want to extend that out to the rest of the community,” she said. “I hope it’s a blessing to them and to us as well.”
This summer, feeding sites will include the Mountain View Senior Center, the park in Melbourne and the park in Horseshoe Bend.
“They’ll feed lunch and a snack all summer long,” Adams said.
One of the struggles the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance has had to contend with is the rural nature of the state. Adams said other states may have more of a concentrated population, which makes it easier to get food to the majority of children.
“We knew accomplishing this goal would be no small task,” she said.
The goal has been met, Adams said, and every county in the state will have some kind of summer feeding program for children this year. There are also dreams of a permanent mobile feeding station to bring more food to areas in need.
“We’re really trying to get the word out,” she said. “Any family can call the hunger hotline.”
The hotline is (866) 3-HUNGRY, or information can be found by texting FOODAR to 877877.
Staff writer Angela Spencer can be reached at (501) 244-4307 or firstname.lastname@example.org.