While Kentucky was one of eight states to see an increase in students participating in summer nutrition programs, it still provided lunches to fewer than 1 in 10 children, according to a newly released report.

The report, Hunger Doesn’t Take A Vacation, which was released Tuesday by the Food Research & Action Center, shows 8.8 children in Kentucky ate summer meals for every 100 who ate school lunch during the regular school year — an improvement from 7.7 in last year’s report. The Bluegrass State ranks 47th in the nation, according to the report, an improvement from 49th last year.

According to the report, summer nutrition programs in the state served 32,243 children in July 2016. During the same period, 3 million children were served across the country, a 4.8 percent decrease from 2015.

“We still have a way to go in closing the summer hunger gap in Kentucky, but it’s very positive news that summer meals are reaching more children,” said Reid Livingston, coordinator of the No Kid Hungry Kentucky campaign, a state wide collaborative lead by the Kentucky Association of Food Banks. “Kentucky can build on this progress by redoubling outreach efforts throughout this summer to make sure children and families are aware of this valuable program. The Summer Nutrition Programs can make a huge difference for the more than 200,000 food insecure children in Kentucky.”

The report highlighted Kentucky’s improvement especially addressing transportation barriers and supporting sponsors.

Despite it being very rural, the state continues to see growth in various mobile summer meal initiatives, ranging from retrofitted school buses to library bookmobiles. Kentucky has also seen success in providing sponsors the opportunity to learn from each other, the report noted, and the state Department of Education even hosted a series of “best practices share sessions.”

However, Kentucky has plenty of room for improvement.

According to a release from the Kentucky Association of Food Banks, if the state had reached 40 children with summer lunches for every 100 low-income children who get school lunch during the regular school year, Kentucky would have fed an additional 118,000 low-income children every day in July 2016 and brought in $9,313,188 more federal dollars to do so.

Summer meals are provided at local sites in Kentucky such as schools, recreation centers, libraries, churches, parks and non-profit organizations for children ages 18 and under, the report noted.

Madison County has two summer lunch programs, which are hosted at various sites throughout the county.

“Summer meals play a critical role in closing the hunger gap and supporting summer programs, keeping low-income children healthy, learning and engaged during summer vacation,” said FRAC President Jim Weill. “Clearly, more must be done to close this gap to reduce hunger, fight obesity and reduce the summer ‘learning slide’ for millions of our nation’s children. Greater investments at the federal, state and local levels are needed to support improved access to nutritious meals and high quality summer programming for low-income children.”

The District of Columbia (48.8 to 100) was the top performing state followed by New Mexico (35.8), Vermont (34.9), New York (29.9) and Maine (27.4). Oklahoma (5.5), Nebraska (7.8), Mississippi (8.0) and Texas (8.1) performed worse than Kentucky.

The report measures the success of the summer nutrition programs, which include the Summer Food Service Program and the National School Lunch Program in summer months, at the national and state levels. Success is measured both in absolute numbers and by comparing the number of children receiving summer meals to the number of low-income children receiving school lunch during the regular school year.

To see the full report, visit frac.org.

For more information on local summer meal programs, call 859-625-6026.

Jonathan Greene is the editor of The Register; follow him on Twitter @jgreeneRR.

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