"Southeastern dairy farmers proudly support this program." -- Georgia dairy producer Mark Rodgers.
Some 7.7 million meals – each containing a dairy product as part of the serving -- are rolling out to children across rural Georgia this summer.
Thanks to efforts by USDA, the Georgia Food Bank Association (GFBA), the Southeastern United Dairy Industry Association (SUDIA), local schools and others, the meals are being delivered to children who might not otherwise get enough to eat when school is out.
The summer program, "Feeding for a Promising Future – No Kid Hungry Campaign," kicked off June 26 in three Georgia counties. The program provides free breakfasts and lunches to children in need. The summer food sites are located in low-income communities where at least half of the children are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals.
The meals, prepared at various sites across the state, often reach kids via air-conditioned buses. The youngsters can eat the nutritious food right on the bus. Each meal offers a whole grain, protein, vegetable, fruit and dairy item. Fat-free or low-fat milk, cheese or yogurt make up the dairy component.
This year’s expected number of meals represents a 10% increase from last year, says Michele Chivore, GFBA’s campaign director.
Burke County alone will serve 80,000 meals in this year’s summer feeding program, says Sharon Rhodes, SUDIA’s manager of school health and wellness. Burke County has 16 mobile routes for the summer feeding program.
During her lunch on a Georgia school bus yesterday, a child takes a sip of the milk provided with the summer feeding program meals. (Photo: Kat Goduco Photography + Concepts)
Mark Rodgers, a dairy producer from Dearing, Ga., joined the group yesterday in kick-starting this summer’s mobile feeding program.
"We, the American farmer, can grow the food," Rodgers says. "But it takes programs like these to make sure kids do not go hungry in the summer. Southeastern dairy farmers proudly support this program. No child in America should go hungry."
SUDIA has been involved in the summer feeding program for several years, increasing its involvement over the past two years as part of its participation in the "Fuel Up to Play 60" program. The nation’s largest in-school nutrition and physical activity program, Fuel Up to Play 60 began under the leadership of America’s dairy farmers.
According to GFBA, 63% of school-aged children in Georgia rely on national school meal programs to provide them with daily nutrition throughout the school year. Of those children, nearly 85% don't have access to nutritious meals and snacks in the summer. In fact, Georgia ranks 21st in the nation in terms of summer nutrition participation.
"Child hunger is most common, and most severe, during the summer months," GFBA Executive Director Danah Craft says. "The vision of the Summer Food Service Program is to increase the number of children served summer meals throughout the state. Increasing participation and feeding more children in need this summer will help us reach our goal of ending child hunger in Georgia."
USDA funds the Summer Food Service Program and Seamless Summer Option. Those are administered by Bright from the Start: Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning, and its counterpart, the Georgia Department of Education: School Nutrition Programs. GFBA and its seven regional food bank members partner with 2,300 pantries around the state to distribute more than 103 million pounds of food annually to food-insecure families.