NEW ORLEANS — No more busses, no more books, no more teachers, dirty looks. No more lunch. A record 21.7 million kids get free or reduced-priced lunch during the school year. But when summer starts, the majority of the go without this essential, federally funded benefit. About 18% — or roughly 4 million kids — receive meals through the USDA's summer program. While that's a record for the 40-year old initiative, many advocates say more needs to be done. "In the summer, when those school meals disappear, children find themselves hungry and with few options," said Duke Storen, a senior director at Share Our Strength, which aims to end child hunger. "It impacts their health and well-being and contributes to learning loss." The most significant impediment for the summer meals effort is the federal requirements that children receive their meals from an approved facility. The rationale is to ensure that the kids are the ones actually eating the meals. But it's not easy for kids to get to the meal site, especially in the suburbs, where poverty levels are increasing. Also, extreme weather can be a factor, as well as violence in certain cities. Take New Orleans, Louisiana. Most 501(c)3 summer camps in Orleans Parish are eligible to participate in a program that provides meals to needy kids, which includes breakfast and lunch. Summer camps coordinate directly with sponsors who provide meals. The list includes: -Orleans Parish School Board -Healthy School Food Collaborative -Second Harvest Food Bank -Algiers Charter School Network, and -many others as approved by the Louisiana Board of Education Specifically, the New Orleans Kid Hungry Campaign works to help summer camps increase their enrollments. Officials in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania have taken a similar approach. Traditionally, the city provided federally funded summer meals at about 70 recreation centers and camps. This year, it launched GrubUp, which will expand its reach to 34 pools, playgrounds, libraries and other new sites through a food truck. Funded by $90,000 in grants, the truck will also attend festivals and other community events. Oftentimes, it will accompany the Roving Art Cart, which traverses the city offering arts and crafts programs for kids. Through these efforts, city officials hope to boost the number of children receiving meals by 10% this summer. Still, that means only about 30% of Pittsburgh's kids in the school lunch program will receive meals over the summer. On a national level, the USDA is working with lawmakers to increase flexibility around the summer meals program, said Audrey Rowe, a department administrator. It is also expanding the number of sites offering meals, with the most recent push being health centers and children's hospitals. To learn more about programs that help hungry children, visit nohungrykid.org or contact your local city hall.
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