CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- About 60 percent of public school students in West Virginia qualify for free and reduced priced meals. The Summer Food Service Program, which kicked off Monday, ensures that those students have access to nutritious meals once school is out.
"It's not only that we try to combat childhood hunger, but we need to do it in a responsible way. And sadly enough, childhood hunger is alive and well here in West Virginia," said Rick Goff, director of the Office of Child Nutrition for the state Department of Education. "This program steps in and acts as a safety net for the kids who are at risk of being hungry in the summer."
The Summer Food Service Program is a federal program that offers free meals to children 18 years and under in lower-income areas during the summer.
The Office of Child Nutrition provides funds to county school boards and other organizations to help feed students at schools, churches, parks and other sites during the summer months.
More than 400 food sites will be participating in the program across the state this summer.
Last summer, about 13,000 meals were served to children each day as part of the program.
A kickoff celebration for the program was held Monday morning at the Charleston Boys & Girls Club, where nearly 200 students are participating in summer recreational programs where free meals will be served.
Jim Harmon, a representative for the United States Department of Agriculture, called the Summer Food Service Program, which started in the seventies, "a very high priority" for the agency.
That's because, on average, 22 million children in the country receive lunch and breakfast at school, he said.
"We're only reaching a very small percentage of children in the summer, though, and we need to change that," Harmon said.