Food for Thought: eliminating childhood hunger

It’s well known that a lot of kids don’t get enough to eat in the summer, but Tulsa is fortunate to have numerous organizations working to make sure no child goes hungry here. Chief among these is Hunger Free Oklahoma, where Devin Schroeder is Tulsa Regional Program Manager. Schroeder visited with La Semana recently about how the community is addressing this vital issue, and talked about an important initiative called “Food for Thought.”

“Food for Thought is a partnership between Hunger Free Oklahoma, the Oklahoma State Department of Education, and the Oklahoma Childhood Food Security Coalition,” Schroeder said. “It’s an outreach campaign for the Summer Meals Program.”

The Summer Meals Program is a nationwide child nutrition program “in which any child or teenager aged 18 and under can go to one of the program sites and access a no-cost meal,” Schroeder explained. “It can be breakfast, lunch, a snack, and some sites even serve dinner.”

Schroeder said the program is completely anonymous, that no child has to provide identification or even give a name. All a child or teen has to do is show up at a participating site and he or she will be served a nutritious meal including meat, grains, fruits and vegetables and milk.

The program is federally funded, but is administered by local sponsor groups such as Community Food Bank and Tulsa Public Schools.

The program is growing in the Sooner State but still has a long way to go, Schroeder said, noting that Oklahoma trails the rest of the country in participation even though the need here is great.

Schroeder said that the vast majority of Tulsa school kids – over 80% – rely on free and reduced meals during the school year, and many do not have access to proper nutrition during the summer break. Thanks to the Summer Meals Program the solution is already in place, and Hunger Free Oklahoma is taking some innovative steps to make sure every affected family knows how to participate.

“In a partnership with Code for Tulsa we created a mapping website called www.meals4kidsok.org,” Schroeder said. “You can get on your phone or computer and it will provide the closest meal site to where you are.”

The website is in both Spanish and English and lists the names and addresses of all the sites, which meals are served and at which hours. Most sites serve the free meals Monday through Friday, although some are less frequent. If one site happens to serve breakfast but not lunch, kids are welcome to visit other nearby sites so they don’t have to miss any meals during the day.

“The good news is there are more than 100 sites in the Tulsa metro area where kids can get free meals,” Schroeder said, adding that the program is not based on need.

“This program is for everybody, for all kids 18 and under,” she said, “but all meals need to be eaten on site.” For more information or to find a meal site near you, visit www.meals4kidsok.org.

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