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Food Programs Fill Summer Nutrition Gap by Filling Kids' Tummies

Kids who rely on free or reduced-price lunches during the school year don't need to go hungry or sacrifice nutrition when school is out for the summer. Feeding programs, including a local effort in Los Angeles and a nationwide push by YMCAs, will be dishing up millions of healthy meals and snacks this summer.

National program

The YMCA's Summer Food Program, funded through a large donation from Walmart, will provide nutritious meals and snacks, as well as fun learning-enrichment activities, to keep kids healthy, active and well-nourished all summer long. The YMCA programs are open to children younger than 18 and help to fill the summertime gap for those who receive free and reduced-cost meals during the school year.

Nearly two-thirds of families served by Feed America report participating in the National School Lunch Program, but only 14 percent receive free meals in a summer feeding program when school is not in session. Research shows that more than 30 million children in low-income communities receive free or reduced-cost meals during the school year, but only 2.3 million continued to have access to such meals during summers.

"The summer months can be a challenging time for families as they try to ensure their children have access to regular, healthy meals while they're out of school," says Julie Gehrki, senior director of the Walmart Foundation. "We are proud to continue partnering with the Y this year to help even more kids and teens across the United States benefit from meal programs in their hometowns, so they can enjoy healthy, happy summers."

To find a participating location in your community, visit the YMCA's Summer Food Program website.

L.A. program expands

In California, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and the city of Los Angeles are joining forces to provide 4.5 million free meals this summer.

"Providing nutritious meals for young people has always been a priority for the LAUSD, and to partner with the city of Los Angeles and its recreation and parks department shows the synergy between the city and our school district to ensure that young people have delicious, nutritious meals throughout the summer," says David Binkle, LAUSD food services director.

The school district's food services department will not only serve meals at 317 schools this summer, but for the first time, it will also supply meals at 105 parks and recreation centers through Aug. 8. More than 520,000 students in LAUSD qualify for free or reduced-price meals during the school year, but many do not get enough to eat when school is out.

"A family's income should not play a role in determining whether or not a child has access to a healthy lunch," Los Angeles City Councilman Mitch O'Farrell says.

The summer food program is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and administered by the California Department of Education. Summer programs are located at approved sites that serve large numbers of low-income children.

"The Summer Lunch Program ensures that children in our communities receive wholesome, nutritious meals when school is not in session," says Michael A. Shull, general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks.

To learn more about the L.A. Summer Food Service Program and find meal times and locations, visit LAUSD's "I'm In" website, a page designed to raise awareness about the district's healthy meals to fight childhood obesity.

Programs elsewhere

If you or someone you knows needs help, a number of national organizations offer great resources for families in need of nutritious lunches while their children are out of school. They include Why Hunger and Feed America. Through their websites, families in need can locate summer meal sites across the country. Just type in your address, and you'll get a list of summer feeding sites in your area.