While the number of Chautauqua County students receiving free or reduced lunches during the school year is high, those receiving meals during the summer is low.
U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, accompanied by County Executive Vince Horrigan, spoke Friday at the Jamestown Boys & Girls Club about legislation to change the statistics by better integrating summer education and meal programs.
"Many children receive their only meal at school during the year, and when school is out for the summer, they go hungry," Gillibrand said. "The bipartisan Summer Meals Act would help combat this problem by strengthening the USDA summer nutrition program to help more children across America access quality meals during the summer months. Every child who is hungry should have food year-round."
U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand was at the Jamestown Boys & Girls Club on Friday to talk about legislation to fight child hunger. The bill would help improve nutrition and enhance learning in underserved areas by better integrating summer education and meal programs.
P-J photo by Katie Atkins
Last year, 8,838 students living in Chautauqua County received a free or reduced lunch, while only 756 children participated in a summer lunch program. Gillibrand's legislation would expand eligibility to an additional 10 schools in Chautauqua County alone.
"On behalf of Chautauqua County, we talk about kids being our future, but I consider them our 'now,'" Horrigan said. "With your help and this bill, nutrition and a thriving community are what this is all about."
Jeffrey Kroon, executive director of the Boys and Girls Club, said lunch and snack are served to between 125-150 children every day at the facility.
"Access to these nutritious options for meals and snacks are essential to the health of our kids. The summer is clearly the most active season for our kids, so these meals and snacks serve as fuel for the engine," he said.
Gillibrand said she's optimistic the bill will be passed into law this year.
"It's not Democratic or Republican, it's just a good idea," she said, adding that the bill is an enhancement of a bill already in place.
Nationwide, 31 million students participate in the national school lunch program, and 22 million students receive free or reduced school lunch, but only one in seven have access to summer meals.
In New York, there are more than 1.7 million children receiving free or reduced school lunch, but only 27 percent have access to summer meals.
The Summer Meals Act would also reduce the paperwork burden for private-public partnerships to participate in the program, provide children with transportation to summer meal sites, and would also offer an additional meal to children who attend evening programs.
The USDA Summer Food Service Program provides low-income children under age 18, who would normally receive free or reduced school lunch, with meals during the summer.
Currently, there are 45 national organizations that have endorsed the Summer Meals Act legislation.