Kentucky recently ranked 41st in the nation in summer meals program participation and reports indicate larger numbers of children are taking advantage of the program across the commonwealth. Here in Marshall County, those who organized the program and delivered the meals report great success with providing healthy meals for kids who may not get a nice meal otherwise.
Feeding Kentucky compiled reports from several agencies and found that the average daily participation for summer meals program in July 2018 was 35,528 children--a 15.7% increase from 2017; the number of meals served in July and Aug. 2018 increased by more than 20%; the number of sites where children could access summer meals increased by 300, from 1,628 sites in 2017 to 1,928 sites in 2018.
Feeding Kentucky contends that in a rural state with high poverty rates, ensuring access to summer meals for all food-insecure children is a significant challenge but mobilizing summer meal sites significantly increased participation.
"When school lets out, too many children lose access to the school breakfasts and lunches they rely on during the school year, increasing childhood hunger and stretching family budgets during the summer," said Kate McDonald, KY Kids Eat Coordinator at Feeding Kentucky. "Summer meals help fill this gap and mobile meals ensure access for many Kentucky kids."
Marshall County Schools Food Services Director McKenzie Suiter said the addition of mobile summer meals sites was definitely a success this year, noting nearly 2,200 meals were served to Marshall County children in June alone, which was 300 more meals than served during June 2018. She attributed the increase to the addition of three mobile sites this year.
Since June 3 and through the end of this week, with the exception of the first week of July, Marshall County's children have been able to meet with school district employees at various sites to pick up a brown-bag lunch filled with nutritious, and often still warm lunches, five days a week.
"When I was trying to find locations for summer feeding, I spoke with our transportation director, Jeff Stokes, and asked where lots of kids were dropped off in one location because our county is so rural, I couldn't deliver meals to each of their homes," she said. "So he spoke with his bus drivers to help me get that information and that's how we chose the mobile sites."
Karen Faye Lane, Kenbar Inn and Marcella's Kitchen were meeting points where the children could count on a meal Monday through Friday. Suiter said on a typical day, nearly 40 children are served just at Karen Faye Lane alone. The school employees also delivered meals twice a week to a few Mountain Comprehensive sites, summer school sites and at all three Marshall County Public Libraries locations.
Suiter said the meals vary daily and are based on a meal pattern that's a little more relaxed than the typical school lunch. She said it includes a milk, fruit/vegetable (sometimes both), a grain and a meat; some of the meals have included cheeseburgers, chicken snackers, hot dogs, sandwiches and sub sandwiches.
"Our goal was to see more kids served because that's the point of this program, is to offer a free, healthy, nutritious meal to as many kids as we can. It's very humbling to serve those kids," she said. "It's a great program--we see those kids who go hungry in the summer and we feed them."
Along with the meals, Suiter said, the school staff has also been passing out flyers with information about Marcella's Kitchen in Benton. She said the meals from the school could only be distributed to children 18 and under, but they recognized adults who needed meals as well. And, she said, that food insecurity isn't just limited to the summer months--Marcella's is open year-round and able to feed anyone, no questions asked, free of charge from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m., Monday through Friday. The kitchen is located at 868 Guy Mathis Drive.