(photo by Tim Jaynes, Staff)
The Missouri State Health Department has once again teamed up with area agencies in an effort to see that every child receives well balanced meals in the summer, when regular school lunch and breakfast programs are not operating.
Sikeston Public Schools has participated in the Summer Food Service Program for years as an open site, serving free breakfast and lunch not only to its summer school students but to any child age five to 17.
According to Brad Priday, food services director for the R-6 District, the large number of local participants is proof of the need. This summer there have been three Sikeston Public Schools sites where lunch and breakfast are served to 1,900 students per day.
The summer program, which ends with summer school on Friday, makes it possible for youngsters in low-income families to receive at least two healthy meals a day in the summertime.
And that's what makes it such an important project, Priday said.
"I always worry about the meals the students receive outside of school, sometimes we provide the only nutritious meal of the day" Priday said. "It is very important for us as a district to provide meals for our students participating and any other children in our community who might need a meal on a particular day. Research shows how vital breakfast and lunch are to the learning process of our children. The milk and calcium fortified juices we serve are such an important part of our youths' diet.
"We are sometimes the largest source of calcium that our students receive throughout the day. This program has been such an important endeavor, that the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Food Service is looking at doing a similar program for the schools each summer."
Last year the program served 57,000 children in Missouri. The SFSP is also available to people over age 18 who are determined by a state educational agency to be mentally or physically handicapped and who participate in a school program for the mentally or physically handicapped.
Yet concerned that the program is not being utilized as well as it should be, the Missouri Department of Health is encouraging more Missouri communities and organizations to get involved.
The state department reports that during 2001, only 15 percent of the needy children in the state were able to take advantage of the program's benefits.
Sponsors eligible to run the SFSP include public or private non-profit schools, residential summer camps, units of local, municipal, county or state government, private non-profit organizations and public or private non-profit colleges and universities operating a National Youth Sports Program.
Meals and snacks provided by the sponsor are usually served to children in such places as churches, schools, playgrounds, camps, homeless sites, migrant areas and parks.
Organizations wanting more details about site eligibility and program information are asked to call 1-888-435-1464 or write to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, Summer Food Service Program, P.O. Box 570, Jefferson City, Mo., 65102.