JOLIET – State officials are urging more outreach in a summer food service program that feeds hungry children from low-income families when school is out.
On Wednesday, the Illinois State Board of Education’s nutrition and wellness division gave an overview of the summer food service program to local educators and officials at the Professional Development Alliance in Joliet.
The program is federally funded and reimburses approved sponsors for nutritious meals served at a site to low-income children.
Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti came to the presentation to speak about why child hunger is important to her, saying she was raised by young parents who immigrated to the U.S. and were often concerned about from where their next meal would come.
“I can tell you from my perspective it was an environment of sheer fear because I wanted to help them, and I worried so much about our next meal, but there was nothing I could possibly do as a child to help my parents put food on the table. But I carry that worry with me always,” Sanguinetti said.
She said that last year 39,000 children in Will County were declared eligible for the free or reduced school lunch program and through the summer food program 180,000 meals were served at 44 sites.
However, the ISBE and the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated that another 130 sites were needed in the county to come close to providing meals to all children who are eligible, she said.
“Today we need to get our heads together. … Think outside the box and think about how we could find those additional sites that we need so much to create more certainty for our children in the summertime,” she said.
Children in Illinois are not hungry because of a lack of food or food and nutrition programs but because federal programs that serve them are frequently underused by those who are eligible, according to the No Kid Hungry campaign by Share Our Strength, a national childhood hunger relief organization.
One of the ways to do additional outreach has been through advertising.
Amy Bianco, ISBE principal operations consultant for nutrition and wellness programs, said the state agency does outreach about the program with sponsors and advertises in the Chicago area and in southern Illinois.
“Trying to get the word out is the biggest thing,” Bianco said.
Some of the keys to running a successful summer food service program are through surveys to gauge community interest, marketing the programs through posters or fliers in public places, partnering with community organizations, holding a summer food kick-off event and offering incentives to children such as raffles or tickets to baseball games, according to the ISBE.
Bianco challenged the audience to take the ISBE’s outreach fliers regarding the summer food service program to towns and communities to reach more areas.
“That’s how we make it grow,” she said.