COLUMBUS, Ohio (WSPD) -- All but 12 Ohio counties are offering a summer program to provide free lunch to children who need it. The problem is that only about one in ten children who qualify for a free or reduced lunch at school are participating.
More than one in four Ohio children live in homes with food insecurity, meaning they don't know where their next meal will come from. Many don't have access to fresh fruits and vegetables, especially during the summer months when they're out of school. Last year, 633,000 Ohio children were getting a free or reduced-price school lunch, but only 66,015 took advantage of the summer food service program.
“We have to work urgently to reach more children with nutritious meals during the summer months,” said Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the Ohio Association of Foodbanks. “Research shows that even one experience with hunger can have a negative impact on kids for a decade or more. We must act now, community by community, to make sure no child goes without adequate nutrition.”
One of the biggest hurdles for the program to overcome is a lack of transportation. In some cases families don't have a good way to get around or the feeding sites are too far away. The 12 counties that don't offer programs: Auglaize, Coshocton, Mercer, Preble, Guernsey, Hancock, Holmes, Logan, Monroe, Noble, Union, and Vinton are mostly in rural areas of southeast or western Ohio.
"Throughout the last three years we've actually seen a drop in the number of Ohio counties that do not have a summer food service program site," said Jason Elchert with the Ohio Association of Foodbanks.
In addition to the summer food service program, there are other programs being offered to deliver fresh fruits and vegetables to families. The Summer Weekend Meals Program gives children shelf-stable meals to eat over the weekend. A home delivery service is planned for rural southern and southeastern Ohio, and the Mobile Farmers Markets gets fresh produce and other popular items to sites around the state for distribution to participating children and their families.