Summer feeding combats childhood food insecurity

Published 1:22 pm Wednesday, May 31, 2023

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As schools prepare for summer break, children in Butler, Lowndes, and Crenshaw counties who are food insecure may wonder where their next meal will come from. But school systems in these rural counties already have long-standing programs in place to ensure children have access to nutritious meals during the summer months.

Butler County Schools Child Nutrition Coordinator Linda Perdue said the school system offers breakfast and lunch at all school sites  and some community sites around the county through the Alabama initiative, Break for a Plate. The program aims to feed children who might not otherwise have access to daily meals.

“We’ve been doing summer feeding and Break for a Plate for a while,” Perdue said. “Most of our effort is aimed at providing meals at school sites. Outside sites are what we call a non-congregated site because we are in a rural area. So, all outside sites operate as non-congregated, which means that parents can come with their child to pick up a meal and leave. They can stay and eat or they can take it home.”

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According to Perdue, the school system serves approximately 2.000 students. During the summer, access to transportation limits some children from coming out for meals, but in June of 2020, the system supplied 13,163 meals for students.

Dr. Kenneth Fair, Lowndes County Public Schools Director of Operations said the county’s approach to the issue of childhood food insecurity is a summer enrichment program which most students attend in June and July.

“We’re doing what’s called the school summer feeding program,” Fair said. “It’s offered every year, usually from early June to the end of July. The program operates at every site except Central High School, but those students will be served from Central Elementary School. Students who are served on site are actually in summer school, so they are eating meals served while they are in school.”

The schools offer summer school to help struggling students and also those who are on grade level by providings enrichment programs to assist students in preparing for the next grade level and beyond, Fair explained.

The system has a good return of students through the summer, Fair said, and last year 85-95% of the 1,100 students enrolled attended the summer program.

“This is a benefit to all our children, primarily because you are looking at getting breakfast and lunch every day,” Fair said. “We don’t really have to address the issue of food insecurity because our students are coming to the summer program. It’s not just about summer academics; it’s also to mitigate food insecurity.”

Crenshaw County Schools are operating Break for a Plate again this year, serving breakfast and lunch from all three schools and a few community sites.

In addition to serving daily meals, the school is offering bulk meals as well, where families can pick up or children can bring home a bag of meals for several days.

“At all three sites we will be open on certain days,” said Rugh Bayman, child nutrition program director for Crenshaw County School. “There’s a calendar on our website that has everything on it and where it says ‘bulk meals,’ that’s the day of bulk meal pickup.”

Bayman explained children already on campus for summer programs will eat there and can take bulk meals home too. Summer camps for reading and math as well as athletic programs bring kids onto campus where they have ready access to meals.

This year, an electronic point of sale system will help the system track the number of meals served and reduce instances of parents visiting multiple locations.

Break for a Plate is focused to help rural communities, Bayman noted. Communities in Crenshaw County qualify for funding based on poverty and population levels.

In each county, summer feeding programs are running through June and most of July. For more information, contact the school system office.