WICHITA, KAN. — More than 200 leaders (covering more than 64 percent of Kansas counties) gathered Monday at the Kansas Leadership Center-Kansas Health Foundation Conference Center to identify barriers and solutions to childhood hunger in Kansas. One key to the solution is increasing participation in the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) summer meals program that provides funding for communities to host sites where kids can be guaranteed a meal during the summer months. Unfortunately, Kansas ranks 50th* in the nation for the percentage of children served by this program.
Audrey Rowe, USDA Administrator for the Food and Nutrition Service, came from Washington D.C. to personally get involved in helping Kansas increase participation. Today in Kansas, nearly one in four children live in poverty.
“Summer is when food insecurity among children increases dramatically. With our partners in the states we are looking at ways to address that gap,” Ms. Rowe said. “I attend a lot of events around the country, and I was very impressed by today’s summit. The enthusiasm and commitment was evident. I saw participants excited to be a part of the solution and make sure Kansas kids don’t go hungry this summer.”
Individuals from school districts, parks and recreation, faith-based communities and food banks gathered for big picture discussions and working sessions broken into rural and urban community groups. Some of the opportunities raised included:
The Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE) is the Kansas administrator of the federal program. Cheryl Johnson, Director of the Child Nutrition and Wellness for KSDE, said she is confident raising awareness and directly engaging communities with the highest need can help increase the number of summer meal sites.
“No child should grow up hungry in Kansas. We can end childhood hunger by connecting kids to effective nutrition programs like school breakfast and summer meals,” Ms. Johnson said. “We believe the summit today will connect more communities together and increase the number of sites for kids. Today we’re announcing a goal to increase the number of meals served through the program this summer by 20 percent.**”
The summit was sponsored by the Kansas Health Foundation (KHF), a strategic grantmaking organization dedicated to improving the health of all Kansans. Based in Wichita but statewide in its focus, the foundation invests its resources in preventing chronic disease among Kansans by promoting and supporting health initiatives focused on active living, healthy eating and tobacco-free living.
“At KHF, over our 30 years of existence, we have grown to know Kansas pretty well, and we know how caring Kansans are. In fact, recent studies show we have some of the highest levels of volunteering and per-person charitable giving in the entire country,” said Steve Coen, president and CEO of KHF. “We can and we must maximize programs like this that can help feed hungry kids.”
*Source: Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) Summer Nutrition Status Report 2013
**In 2014, 1.157 million meals were served in Kansas through the federal program. A 20 percent increase is a goal of 1.273 million meals served in 2015.
TO PARTICIPATE IN THE PROGRAM: Contact the Child Nutrition & Wellness division at KSDE, phone: 785-296-2276 and visit www.kn-eat.org.
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