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Summer meal services growing in popularity as Oklahoma lags behind in meeting need

Growing demand for summer meals
Posted at 5:24 PM, Jul 22, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-22 18:41:26-04

SAPULPA, Okla. — The latest nutrition status report shows Oklahoma in last place for providing summer meals, with only one of every 18 low-income children participating in a school lunch program.

Districts like Sapulpa continue to add sites, but say there are roadblocks preventing them from reaching everyone in need.

"Transportation is a big issue. If the children don't live close enough to walk to our site we don't have any way of feeding them," Child Nutrition Director Nancy Sitler said.

In Sapulpa close to 70 percent of students are on free or reduced lunch, and teachers notice the impact of that in the classroom.

"Third grade being a testing year for us and it being that first introduction for students for it... when they come in during the morning and they're not prepared, they're not ready, they haven't been able to eat... their concentration levels are so far off," third grade teacher Joelle Smith said.

Data from the Food Research and Action Center shows Oklahoma had the third-highest increase in the country for summer meal participation from 2017 to 2018 at about 15 percent.

"You can see the hunger on the face even though they may not portray it. You can tell there's that staring off in the distance, there's other things going on in their mind and there's things that they deal with all the time that when they come to school, that's kind of the outlet for them," Smith said.

Teachers tell 2 Works for You they're glad student hunger is getting more attention from the state.

"If we don't, that poverty level is going to continue to rise. Having students suffer the way we see some other individuals in our society suffer... it's never going to be any good," Smith said.

In Tulsa the district served 1700 student every day in the first week of Summer Cafe. That's up 400 children from the same time last year.

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