USDA resource helps children find free summer meals

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG-TV9) – Research shows 88.4% of children that qualify for free and reduced lunch are not participating in a summer meal programs. The USDA said that might be due to the lack of awareness.

“We do feel the case with Iowa is the word is not out as much as it should be about the hotline and about the summer meals program as a whole,” USDA Hunger Hotline Director Rebecca Brown said.

The USDA’s Hunger Hotline has only seen 32 calls from Iowa in the last six months. That’s low compared to other states of this size. The hotline has operators on hand to provide information on where to find a summer meal, as well as other resources.

“We provide information for families and individuals, people of any ages, on other food resources, like food pantries, soup kitchens, meals on wheels, snap, WIC, any other government food programs,” Brown said.

The operator will take your zip code and provide the addresses, phone numbers, and hours to a couple sites near you.

“Providing these free meals for kids can be really helpful for a lot of food insecure families,” Brown said.

The Cedar Rapids Salvation Army has fed more than 1,100 children through its USDA summer meals program.

“We know that statistically about 50% of our children are on a reduced lunch or a lunch program, so in the summer, where do those families turn? Where can they go?” Major Alan Hellstrom said.

He said most clients hear about the Salvation Army’s services through word of mouth. Hellstrom said sometimes the stigma or transportation forces people to not seek help. The location is on a bus route and children don’t need their parents to come in for a meal. He said no one should shy away from a meal if they need it.

“People shouldn’t worry. It’s almost a family atmosphere. You get to see the same people a lot of times, the important thing is children are getting fed,” he said.

The USDA’s Hunger Hotline is 1-866-3-Hungry or 1-877-8-Hambre for Spanish. It’s open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.