The Sidney Sun-Telegraph - Serving proudly since 1873 as the beautiful Nebraska Panhandle's first newspaper

Program offers option for food in summer

Two meals are provided daily


Courtney Fletcher

Leanor Olsen, Nadine Wright and Janet Gipfert help prepare and serve meals for the Summer Food Service Program at North Elementary.

Children need nourishment and good food all year long, even when they're not in school.

Too often when school ends, some children find themselves hungry or with limited resources for food. With the Summer Food Service Program, healthy meals are provided to children age 18 years and younger, free of charge.

With the program and summer meals, students receive the nutrition they need to continue learning, playing and growing during their summer vacation. Sponsors for the Summer Food Service Program receive funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that support programs serving low-income children making sure no child goes hungry when school is not in session.

Some of the communities across Nebraska participating in this program not only provide meals, but educational enrichment and recreational activities as well that help kids continue to learn and stay safe. The meals act as a way to draw children to activities and the activities draw children to the meals.

Local parents and students can find the free meal program at North Elementary on Dodge Street in Sidney. The school provides breakfast Monday through Friday from 7:30-8:15 a.m. Then, lunch is served from 11 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. This program is open to any child, regardless of the family's income.

According to Cindy Curtis, food service director for Sidney Public Schools, this is the only free meal service that provides food for children in the community.

"The free summer meal program has been offered in Sidney for more than 10 years," Curtis said. "The breakfast and lunch rates for our school meal program have actually been lower than many of the other area schools and schools across the state."

Kayte Partch, a nutrition specialist with the Nebraska Department of Education, said the Summer Food Service Program is important for communities because of how many children actually miss out on nutritious meals during the summer months.

"It not only services the children, but the parents as well," Partch said.

"Sometimes the food bill for families during the summer are much higher because kids are home. With this program it lifts a lot of burdens from parents. This is also an easy way for kids to receive healthy meals instead of maybe getting food from convenience stores. This program serves the public health system by giving access to healthier options especially when a huge problem is childhood obesity."

To become a summer food service provider, the sponsors must be an organization that is fully capable of managing such a program. There are set regulations ensuring the financial and administrative roles are taken care of properly. Public or private nonprofit schools, camps or organizations are all able to become meal sites.

According to Betty VanDeventer of the Nebraska Department of Education, the trend data for the state of Nebraska dealing with free and reduced meals can be accessed through the Nebraska Department of Education website.

During the 2013-2014 school year, 44 percent of students ranging from pre-school to 12th grade in Nebraska schools qualified for free or reduced lunches. A new record of 21.7 million American students get free or reduced meals while in school. During the school year, families are required to meet income eligibility to qualify for free and reduced lunches.

"We would really like to encourage anyone with children to take advantage of the free meals that are provided," Curtis said. "An adult can also eat with their children at a cost of $3.50 per meal."

The program serves meals with milk, meat, fruit, vegetables and bread that meet USDA's nutrition standards. With this program, the USDA plans to serve more than 200 million free meals at the approved Summer Food Service Program sites.

"We serve typical school meals, for breakfast we will have cereal and juice and milk and then we have the main course that will include things like salads and bread," said Leanor Olsen, of Sidney Public School's food services.

The Summer Food Service Program will be offered in Sidney through July 31.


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