PIGGOTT, AR (KAIT) – Many kids have begun their countdown to summer, but, according to the hunger relief group Feeding America, about 18 million children will face a greater risk of hunger while they're out of school.
The Department of Human Services (DHS) is offering a program to help, but several counties in Arkansas have not taken part in the 100 percent federally-funded plan. Clay County is one of the 15 counties that has never accessed the DHS Summer Food Service Program, but the Piggott School District is applying for assistance for the first time ever.
"We do backpacks and different things for kids to have food over the weekend," Janice Beck said, "and it just seemed like, for the summer, we didn't have anything for them."
The summer creates a void for families in Piggott, which normally receive assistance with food during the school year. Beck, as school food service director, has recently found an opportunity to provide food that's in when school is out.
"Sometimes parents are kind of financially strapped, so, if they can get their kids uphere and let them have free meals, then I think it's a good program all the way around," Beck said.
Beck has already submitted the first part of the application to make Piggott a provider of the summer food program, which is funded fully by the federal government. It was created to ensure low-income children who receive free or reduced lunches during the school year don't go hungry when school is out of session.
"We know there are kids here in our community that don't have the nutrition year-round that they need by being out of the school the months of the summer," Beck noted, "so this will kind of supplement them as far as maybe having a good meal through the day in the summer."
If the school's application is accepted, Beck would like to first provide breakfast and lunch for the 25 students attending summer school this year. She, however, could stretch the money to offer free meals to anyone under the age of 18.
"If they can get here, we can feed them," Beck explained. "Bottom line – if they've got kids 18 and under, then they can bring them into the cafeteria, then we're going to give them a meal."
Beck will submit the full application soon, and hopes to hear a decision from DHS about funding before school lets out May 18.
For more information about the DHS Summer Food Service Program, click here.