Children in Toledo need not go hungry this summer.
Any child under 18 can receive free meals on weekdays at 40 sites throughout the city, no questions asked. With past meal distribution numbers lower in the summer than during the school year, representatives of Toledo’s Summer Food Service Program say they want to make summer meals more accessible this year.
Students can now call the 211 hotline 24 hours a day for information on the nearest program site, hours, and meal-time activities that range from arts and crafts to parachute launching to egg-and-wooden spoon races.
The program is funded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture and administered by the Ohio Department of Education. Local programs are reimbursed $2.98 per meal.
“All these dollars are just sitting there that the community is not using,” said Kate Sommerfeld, a community impact specialist for United Way, adding that sites receive reimbursement only if children show up and eat.
This year marks the first community-wide push to promote the program, Ms. Sommerfeld said.
Two out of every five Ohio students qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches, and 37 percent of students in Lucas County qualify based on family income. Last year, 716,084 students received free lunches and 109,385 ate lunch at a reduced price, the National School Lunch Program said.
During the summer, program sites — run through local organizations such as United Way, Feed Lucas County Children, and the YMCA/JCC of Greater Toledo — are placed near schools where at least half the students receive free or reduced-price lunches during the school year.
About 60 children got lunch Friday at the Sofia Quintero Art and Cultural Center, where program organizers held a public opening kickoff.
Stephanie Cihon, communications manager for ProMedica, said she hoped the public opening would raise awareness about community hunger. The program began this week, which is also National Food Week.
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio), chairman of the Senate subcommittee on hunger, nutrition, and family farms, sent a representative to the opening.
“School may be letting out for the summer — but sadly, hunger is a year-round problem in Ohio,” Mr. Brown said in a statement. “For too many of Ohio’s children, the summer break from school can also mean a summer break from good nutrition.”
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