Oklahoma’s already-low participation in a federal summer meal program declined last year, with far fewer children receiving free meals than the number at risk for hunger.
For every 100 low-income students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, just 5.5 participated in the Summer Food Service Program, a federally funded initiative offered through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That’s a 9 percent decrease from 2015, when 6.4 children per 100 were fed through the program, according to new report released by the nonprofit Food Action & Resource Center.
Oklahoma ranked last among states and the District of Columbia in both the 2015 and 2016 reports.
Nationwide, the average is 15 children receiving summer lunch for every 100 who rely on free or reduced-price lunch during the school year. Five states exceed a ratio of one in four children: the District of Columbia, New Mexico, Vermont, New York and Maine. In 2016, summer meal participation increased in 22 states and declined in 28 states and the District of Columbia.
Advocates say there are a number of reasons why so few children participate, such as a lack of transportation to meal sites, particularly in rural areas.
Efforts to beef up Oklahoma’s summer meal program are underway. State Superintendent of Instruction Joy Hofmeister recently launched a campaign to raise awareness of the program and increase the number of meals served.
Meals are distributed at more than 600 sites across the state, and they include schools, YMCAs, summer camps and community centers. Any child 18 years old or younger is eligible for a free meal and families don’t have to pre-register or present identification.