Free summer meals will continue for a second year, with an emphasis on increasing awareness in neighborhoods of need and making the meal site list more readily available, Rochester Area Community Foundation officials stated.
According to a press release from the organization, in order to help youth and parents better understand where and when meals are available, the list of meal sites will be available Monday, June 16, by calling 2-1-1. In addition, neighborhoods where participation has been low will be targeted with details on the program in an effort to get more youth to stop by meal sites and eat more frequently during the summer months.
City youth can get free breakfast, lunch and sometimes dinner at locations in or near their own neighborhoods from June 30 to late August. Because of the city’s poverty level, all children under age 18 are eligible for free summer meals.
Additionally, all schools that are open for summer school will be drop-in sites where youth who are not getting instruction can still receive free breakfast and lunch.
Spearheading this effort is the Summer Meals Planning Committee, a collaboration of the city of Rochester, Foodlink, Finger Lakes Health Systems Agency, Rochester Area Community Foundation, Rochester City School District, and other partners.
“We are once again involving all of our community partners to spread the word about when and where meals are available to ensure that more children and youth eat healthy meals during the months when school is not in session,” says Mairéad Hartmann, program officer at the Community Foundation.
According to the press release, a summer meals program is particularly important to the Rochester community because:
• The city has the seventh-highest child poverty rate in the nation, has the third highest concentration of extremely poor neighborhoods, and is the fifth poorest in the country among the top 75 metropolitan areas;
• Foodlink reported earlier this week that one in five children in the 10-county region has limited or uncertain access to adequate food, and 12.8 percent of Monroe County residents are at risk of going hungry — the highest among all of the counties the local food bank serves; and
• A March 2013 report by the Center for Governmental Research (CGR) estimates that as many as 16,000 youth who receive free- and reduced-priced meals during the school year are not accessing the free meals offered at such sites as libraries, city recreation centers, schools, and churches.
“Foodlink is familiar with the increased need during the summer months when families cannot rely on school meals to feed their children,” said Jeanette Batiste, co-executive director of the region’s food bank. “We want to make sure that no child goes hungry in the city of Rochester.”
Begun in the mid-1970s and administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in conjunction with the New York State Department of Education, the program allows community-based organizations to participate, in addition to school districts and local governments.
All city recreation and community center sites offer free meals and are also “one-stop shops for our youth to have fun, stay active, and be healthy all summer long,” said Marisol Ramos-Lopez, commissioner of the Department of Recreation and Youth Services.