School is out for the summer, but the doors at Nashville Elementary School open weekdays at noon. For 30 minutes Monday through Friday, the school welcomes students for lunch, making it easy for children who rely on free or reduced-price meals during the school year to have access to nutritious food when class is out.
The school is one of many across Arkansas participating in the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and Seamless Summer Option (SSO). More than 60 percent of Arkansas children rely on free or reduced meals during the school year. These programs extend the same opportunity to kids in need during the summer.
I’ve long supported updating federal child nutrition programs to provide consistency for Arkansas children who rely on the regularly provided meals at school during the school year. Offering states more options to choose what makes the most sense in their communities will allow us to fight hunger and malnourishment in all corners of our state. The problem is that the one-size-fits-all policy fails to take into account challenges in urban and rural communities, such as transportation.
During a visit to Nashville Elementary School earlier this month, it was clear that the summer meals program is a great model for other school districts across the state. The dedicated staff are passionate about continuing to serve students in the summer and, according to the principal, the number of students participating continues to increase. One reason for the growth is that the school provides transportation.
In Arkansas, programs like the mobile summer meals site sponsored by Arkadelphia Parks and Recreation takes food to a location convenient to local kids: the park. I saw first-hand how this approach to overcoming the lack of transportation in rural areas is making a difference in the lives of our youth.
States deserve flexibility to implement strategies that improve the effectiveness of these programs. I will continue to advocate for child nutrition policies that will accomplish our goals while offering local and state leaders the ability to find solutions to the unique challenges and situations specific to their communities.
During Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue’s confirmation hearing, I encouraged him to use his authority to update federal child nutrition programs so children receiving meal assistance during the school year have the same opportunity during the summer. The Secretary said he is committed to facilitating that kind of transition.
I am pleased to have the support of the administration on this initiative. The good news is there is cooperation between federal, state and local entities to maximize participation.
Nashville Elementary School and Arkadelphia Parks and Recreation are just two of many Arkansas organizations that serve meals to students during summer. Last year, more than 180 sites in the state served more than 2.4 million free meals to children.
Children all across Arkansas should be having a fun, safe and healthy summer. Efforts like these to support kids go a long way in helping them to enjoy the break from school.