Media campaign promotes expansion of free lunches

While Oklahoma battles a revenue shortfall, education officials continue to expand programs.

In Oklahoma, nearly 62 percent of public school students are eligible for free and reduced-priced lunches. During the summer months when school is not in session, only 6.4 percent of those same students participate in summer feeding programs, ranking Oklahoma 51st in the nation.

State School Superintendent Joy Hofmeister announced the launch of #FoodforThought, a public awareness campaign by the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) and its Office of Child Nutrition to significantly increase the number of free meals served to Oklahoma kids 18 and under during the federally funded Summer Food Service Program.

Hofmeister announced the expansion program at Disney Elementary in East Tulsa. Sixty-seven Tulsa Public Schools sites are serving summer meals this summer.

Hofmeister and her Faith-Based Advisory Council worked together on the program. According to Hofmeister, Oklahoma has one of the highest rates of food insecurity in the nation. Food insecurity exists when a population has limited or uncertain access to safe, nutritional food or an inability to acquire it. An estimated 1 in 4 Oklahoma children – 220,000 in all – are considered food insecure, and research indicates that students who struggle with hunger have poorer academic and health outcomes than those who do not.

“As a state, it is critical that we work together to provide healthy meals to as many hungry Oklahoma children as we can during summer,” Hofmeister said. The summer meals program offers convenience to families; the vast majority of Oklahoma’s more than 600 sites are open, and children simply arrive on site to eat and are not required to pre-register or present paperwork.

The state’s 182 program sponsors are responsible for overseeing the operations of hundreds of meal sites.