School food programs keep growing

Oklahoma’s participation in the federally funded Summer Food Service Program increased 14 percent this year, resulting in 1.6 million free meals for children age 18 and under between May and August. Almost 200,000 additional meals were provided this year over last year, according to the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE).

The Summer Food Service Program, administered by OSDE’s office of child nutrition, grew this year to 677 sites across the state, an increase of 5 percent.

“Our goal was to more effectively leverage federal dollars to help ensure a significantly higher percentage of our children and young people were benefiting from this free program,” said State Superintendent  Joy Hofmeister. “With the help of sponsors throughout Oklahoma, we were able to offer nutrition supports to thousands of families this summer, resulting in stronger bodies, greater focus and overall higher cognitive function when children returned to school this fall.”

The agency has set a goal of increasing the number of meals served in the summer feeding program by 30 percent by 2025. In Oklahoma, nearly 62 percent of public school students are eligible for free- or reduced-priced lunches. Previously, only 6.4 percent of those same students took part in feeding programs during the summer months when school was not in session, ranking Oklahoma 51st in the nation. The Oklahoma City Public School District began serving free breakfast and lunches to all students, regardless of financial need this school year. Tulsa discussed doing the same thing.

The campaign came from Hofmeister and her Faith-Based Advisory Council. Sponsors for this year’s program rose 12 percent to 182, and the total number of participating schools increased 13 percent. Promotional materials included postcards, posters and door hangers. Oklahoma City-based Tyler Media provided metro-area bus benches and produced radio public service announcements in English and Spanish. The Tulsa-area United Way and United Way of Central Oklahoma helped with distribution of materials.