Student hunger concerns build as school year ends, local groups preparing to meet food needs

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Posted at 6:23 AM, May 27, 2022

CLEVELAND — Across Northeast Ohio, when classes stop, hunger begins and the challenge worsens for many families every summer.

“It is one of our busiest times of the year because children who when they are in school and they're receiving those free or reduced-price lunches when school ends, then there is a gap there that is left,” said Karen Pozna, Director of Communications for the Greater Cleveland Food Bank.

This year, more than 100 programs and locations will service those students, ages 5 to 18, through the food bank’s ‘Summer Food Service Program.’

“We'll be partnering with various organizations, local libraries, boys and girls clubs, Salvation Army…we're also even going to start working with the Metro Parks this summer. They're going to have a few different programs starting and mid-June that will be rotating around,” Ponza explained. “A lot of times too, many of these programs will have additional activities tied to the meal. So, not only can they go get a meal, but then there are also other activities there that I'll help keep them busy and occupied.”

In Lorain County, the public library system is taking on the same mission. Its ‘Summer Lunch for Kids Program’ kicks off Tuesday, May 31 through Aug. 16 at its main branch and South branch. Its Domonkas branch will begin servicing kids on June 6.

“We are expecting about 50 kids a day. That's how many meals we are ordering,” said Katie Cooley, Community Engagement and Outreach Manager with the Lorain County Public Library System. “We have a whole slate of calendar activities so they can enrich their literacy while they're here and earn participation prizes in our summer reading.”

Cooley says ages 18 and under and those with disabilities up to age 21 can pop visit the branches for lunch Monday through Friday. The meals are all state-funded.

“We are able to serve in communities that have 50% or more of children on their free or reduced lunch plan. So that allows us to submit to the state to get reimbursed for the funds we use on these meals,” Cooley said. “The prices have gone up, a, I want to say at least $0.40 per meal since last year.”

While both summer meal programs face rising food costs due to inflation, removing the burden from families remains a priority.

“If we can make sure that we get them the food that they need and that's one last thing that they have to worry about, then that's why we're here,” said Ponza.