More than 2 million meals will be served to children across Mississippi this summer through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Summer Food Service Program. But, as MPB’s Evelina Burnett reports, officials worry that’s still not enough.
Hundreds of children are eating lunch and playing at Point Cadet park in Biloxi, at an event to mark the launch of the summer food service program in Mississippi. It's part of a new effort by the USDA to boost awareness and participation in the program in Mississippi and 12 other states. Cecilia Snyder is with the Bay Area Food Bank.
"We have some of the highest childhood hunger insecurity rates in the country," she says. "On average, our three coastal counties in south Mississippi have a 26% childhood food insecurity rate - meaning that at some time during the year, 26% of children's families have wondered, where is my next meal going to come from?"
This summer, the food service program expects to serve 2.5 million meals, up 10 percent from last year. But USDA Undersecretary Kevin Concannon notes, while the summer program fed 34,000 Mississippi children daily last year, during the school year,more than 360,000 students receive lunches.
"It doesn't mean that all of those children who are covered by the difference in those numbers are going hungry, but it means that some of them, invariably, are," he says.
The USDA says even during the school year, teachers report a difference in students who participated in the summer program.
Sadie Davis with the Boys & Girls Club of East Biloxi says it helps during the summer too.
"With us, it helps them to focus," she says. "If they're filled and eating well, they seem to perform better."
The meals are free to children 18 years and younger.