Participation In Free Summer Lunch Program Continues To Grow

Number Of Meals Given Out To Children From High-Poverty Areas Has Increased 44 Pct. Over 5 Years

Photo: David Joyce (CC-BY-SA).

Participation in the free, federal summer lunch program that provides meals to kids who live in high-poverty areas will likely be up again this year in Wisconsin.

The Summer Food Service Program has seen a steady rise in the number of meals served since it started in the 1970s. According to DPI, over 2.5 million meals were served to kids in Wisconsin through the program last summer — an increase of 44 percent from five years ago.

“At some point in time I thought that we would start to level off,” said Amy Kolano, the summer food service coordinator with the Department of Public Instruction. “What I’m seeing is the number of schools that are actually eligible, or the areas that are eligible, continue to increase year after year.”

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The federal government reimburses school and community organizations that provide free meals to kids under 18 who live in areas of high poverty, or areas where 50 percent or more of kids qualify for free and reduced lunches.

In Madison, the Allied Learning Center serves around 200 children breakfast, lunch, and a snack for eight weeks in the summer. Laura Harrington, the building director, said families and kids in the area rely on those meals.

“(For) most children this the only place that they will be eating, she said. A lot of our families do struggle. The economy has hit them pretty hard … Providing the food program gives them that healthy nutritious meal (so) that the kids can keep mentally and physically healthy.”