by Julie Siple
Families that rely on free or reduced-price lunch during the school year may have a hard time feeding their kids over the summer. That’s why the federally-funded Summer Food Service Program is providing free meals in the metro and throughout Minnesota.
Both Minneapolis and St. Paul schools have released their list of sites where kids can get free meals this summer. The city of St. Paul this week announced that, for the first time, meals are also available at four St. Paul public libraries: Arlington Hills, Dayton’s Bluff, Riverview and Rondo.
Kids under 18 years old, and people who have a mental or physical disability, may receive free meals at the summer food sites.
Last year, the Summer Food Service Program served an all-time high of 1.7 million meals in Minnesota. Still, more than three-fourths of the students on free and reduced-priced lunch didn’t participate in the summer program. Education officials say the state needs more sites, and made a big push back in February for sponsors. This year, 496 sites statewide have been approved to offer summer food, and 41 more are likely to win approval. State education officials say there are 22 more sponsors than last year.
That’s good news for the increasing number of students who may need help this summer. Data from the Minnesota Department of Education show 306,000 students are now on free or reduced-price lunch. That accounts for 36.6% of the state’s entire student population.
Why such a push to make sure kids get enough nutritious food all year round? Education officials say that if kids are healthy and engaged over the summer, they come back in the fall better prepared to learn.