Report: Meal Program Not Reaching Hungry Texas Kids

Elementary Pupils Collecting Healthy Lunch In Cafeteria From Teacher Holding Red Tray

By Mark Richardson, Texas News Service

AUSTIN – A Texas nonprofit organization that fights hunger is concerned that too few children have access to the state’s daily summer food program.

While food insecurity is on the rise in Texas, a recent report indicates that the number of children participating in the program has decreased for two years in a row. However, a proposal to put meals directly into the children’s homes could close that gap.

Celia Cole, chief executive of the group Feeding Texas, said the program does not have enough sites to serve the children in need.

“The program here relies heavily on schools and nonprofits and government agencies to set up food, sites, meal sites in areas of the community where kids are likely to congregate,” she said. “What we’re seeing is that it’s just hard for kids just to get to those sites or there’s just not enough of them.”

Cole said the problem is that summer meal sponsors are mostly schools and offer the program in June during summer school, leaving the children with no place to eat in July and August. She said the program is a continuation of the federally funded meals program that feeds needy children during the school year.

Studies have shown that just 10 Texas children receive summer meals for every 100 who receive free lunches during the school year. Cole said Congress, which funds the program through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is studying alternative ways to get food to hungry children.

“Research tested giving low-income families when school gets out a certain amount of funds on an EBT (electronic benefit transfer) card, the same card that’s used for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assitance Program) or the food stamp program,” she said, “so that those parents could go out and access that food directly at the grocery store.”

Cole said a pilot program in El Paso providing EBT cards to families succeeded at providing significantly more kids with access to summer meals. Feeding Texas is asking Congress to streamline regulations and make the investment to expand the summer program.

The study is online at frac.org. A listing of summer food sites is at squaremeals.org.