Keeping kids satiated over summer

Summer break provides a respite from coursework and testing, but for some school-age children it can also mean more than two months without a nutritious meal.

During the recent school year, Burbank and Glendale schools provided free and reduced-price meals to 5,065 students and 12,000 students, respectively — or 33% and 46% of total enrollment at each of the districts.

Federal programs allow districts to continue nutritional support during summer school. But for the second consecutive year, Glendale and Burbank schools are enrolling significantly fewer students during the summer session, a result of state budget cuts, officials say.

City-specific data on the drop-off rates during summer break were not available, but school officials acknowledged that food instability for their low-income families is a concern come June.

“If these kids are in need during the school year, they are probably going to be in need during the summer as well,” said Jennifer Chin, director of food services at Glendale Unified.

City officials and social service agency representatives said they try to fill in where the schools leave off. Starting Monday, the Glendale Salvation Army will partner with the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank to provide free, hot meals to children for the duration of the summer, said director of social services Rick White.

“We realize that there are so many families for whom that is the only hot meal the kids get during the school year,” White said.

The city of Burbank provides free lunches via its summer parks program. Operating at four sites, including at McKinley and Miller elementary schools and Lundigan and Maxam parks, the program served 8,509 meals in 2010, said recreation supervisor Carol Mercado.

In Los Angeles County last year, just one in five students who received free or reduced-price meals during the academic year continued to do so during summer break, according to a report published this week by the California Food Policy Advocates, a public policy organization dedicated to food accessibility.

Titled “School’s Out … Who Ate?” the report also found that year over year, statewide participation rates in summer nutrition programs have dropped by 50% since 2002 despite increased need.

The numbers are a direct result of cuts to summer school and other supplementary programming, said Matthew Sharp, a senior advocate with California Food Policy Advocates.

“There are very valuable benefits students receive from participating in summer learning programs,” Sharp said. “One benefit is a nutritious lunch. Other benefits include keeping the brain exercising before school starts again. When you combine those, the summer learning gap really hinders students’ lifetime academic achievements.”

Barbara Howell, executive director at Burbank Temporary Aid Center, said the food bank and resource center services about 75 households a day. Burbank is home to a large group of working poor families that are just scraping by, she said, adding that her staff tries to make adjustments during the summer months to accommodate them.

“When a family comes in, we try and be cognizant of the increased need because now the kids are home,” Howell said.

Still, studies show that students who benefit from free and reduced-price meals during the academic year are eating less nutritious food during the summer, Sharp said, and that can often translate into poorer academic performance.

“The number of students who are ready to learn in the fall will be more pronounced along income lines,” Sharp said.

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