Local Meal Programs Fight Against Child Hunger

School officials are touting summer meal programs as a way to reverse child hunger in Northwest Arkansas, as the state combats its previous designation as the worst in the country in hungry children.

One in four children in Northwest Arkansas and 30 percent in the River Valley area will be hungry once school lets out in a few months, according to the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance. School officials said it’s important to have summer meal programs in place so that kids don’t lose that meal once summer break begins.

“When you look at the Springdale School District, 66 percent are on free or reduced lunch…so for the kids to be able to have nutritious meals during the summer, that’s a major, major plus for them, “ said Rick Schaeffer, communications director for the Springdale School District.

Just four years ago, Arkansas led the nation in hungry children, said Nancy Conley, communications director at the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance .

“There’s a definite need to feed kids, and they’re especially vulnerable in the summer when school is out because a great deal of them depend on school lunch as their only meal of the day,” Conley said.

Conley said the numbers are improving because of the number of schools, food banks and community centers that get involved with their summer meals program.

“We topped the nation in the biggest increase of meals served to kids in Arkansas in 2013. We served over four million meals to children. That was up 1.6 million from the previous year,” Conley said.

For any school, church, community center or food bank that would like to get involved, Conley urged agencies to visit their website to apply for grant money to help with the startup costs of providing summer meals. Conley said the money used for buying the meals will be reimbursed by the USDA.