Every summer, various organizations band together to provide food for students, but relatively few families use the service in Oklahoma.
The Summer Food Service Program, a federally-funded program that prepares and distributes meals for kids during the summer months, is nothing new. But in Oklahoma, the service was under-utilized. To that end, the Oklahoma State Department of Education created the #foodforthought campaign to get the word out and get more organizations involved statewide.
When school’s out, kids from food insecure families are at risk of going hungry, especially in Oklahoma. In Ardmore, Ardmore City Schools, the Parks and Recreation Department, local churches and nonprofits are participating in the program. They can be found at http://www.meals4kidsok.org/#findfood. Nearby locations can also be found by texting FOOD to 877877.
The department started the public awareness campaign last year after finding that relatively few children were taking advantage of the program. Roughly 61 percent of children in Oklahoma qualify for free or reduced lunch, but only about 6 percent of students were taking advantage of the free meals during summer.
“This campaign was born out of that problem,” State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister said. “We really want to make sure our kids are nourished and growing when they’re not in school.”
Hofmeister said in the campaign’s first year, the department focused on reaching urban areas with high populations. She said since then, they’ve turned their attention to more rural areas as well.
“They need it just as much as a child who can walk down a sidewalk to a school in a metro area,” Hofmeister said. “Distance is the greatest barrier for our neediest kids in Oklahoma.”
In the past, school districts would participate during their summer school sessions, something that’s changed in the last five to seven years as schools have had to drop summer school due to budget cuts.
“Many of our school districts can’t afford to offer summer school, that’s where we’re feeling the greatest impact,” Hofmeister said.
Parks and Recreation Director Executive Director Teresa Ervin said dates and times will be posted on the Parks and Recreation Facebook page, and are posted on flyers at city parks.