ROCHESTER — A report released March 5 shows that only a quarter of the children eligible for the summer meals program took part last year, and community leaders want to increase community awareness and accessibility to feed as many students as possible.
Only about 4,700 of the 21,000 students who receive free or reduced school lunches also received meals last summer, according to a report by the Center for Governmental Research (CGR). The percentage of students receiving summer meals has been stagnant for the past few years, as illustrated by a story published in the June 2011 edition of El Mensajero Católico.
CGR’s 117-page study was released during a March 5 event at the Thomas P. Ryan Community Center that included a summer meals tasting for students and community officials.
The event was hosted by the Summer Meals Planning Committee, a collaboration that includes the Rochester Area Community Foundation, Finger Lakes Health Systems Agency, the Rochester City School District, Foodlink and the city of Rochester. The committee also announced plans to raise the annual participation in the program by 20 percent.
To reach the committee’s goal of feeding more children, an increased number of school officials, parents, family members and community groups must become aware of summer meal services and be able to find distribution sites by going online or making a phone call, the report stated.
Addressing the accessibility issue is vital, as demand for such emergency food services has been growing, according to the report, which found that:
* from 2008 to 2011, the number of children receiving emergency meals at food pantries, soup kitchens or shelters rose 10 percent from May to June, another 9 percent in July and an additional 3 percent in August over the four-year period; and
* staff from the 211 nonemergency help line made about 1,500 food referrals in June of 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011. The total number jumped to about 1,800 in July and August of those years.
"This community’s summer meals program exists to make sure our children get fed and fed well, and we should work together to make sure more families take advantage of all it has to offer," stated Jennifer Leonard, president and CEO of the Community Foundation, which partially funded the CGR study.
EDITOR’S NOTE: For more information about summer meals, call Foodlink at 585-328-3380. To read the Center for Governmental Research report, click on "Featured Projects" at www.cgr.org.