WSIL -- Although it's still winter, the Illinois State Board of Education is already planning for the Summer Food Service Program. In southern Illinois, five counties are still hoping for sponsors to step up.
Those include Hamilton, Hardin, Johnson, Pope and Washington, which are in need of sponsors and sites. Tim Murphy, in the Nutrition Division for the Illinois State Board of Education, says school districts, local governments, and non-profits can all be sponsors.
"The summer food service program is a federally-funded program through the U.S. Department of Agriculture," Murphy explains. "It’s a reimbursement program, so it would be meal counting, training of the sites, there’s also the meals themselves."
Serving sites include parks, recreation centers, resource centers, churches, summer camps, libraries, and other community locations.
Of the five counties, only Johnson had a single summer meals sponsor from 2012 to 2016. It lost the sponsor for the summers 2017 and 2018. While the other counties, have not found sponsors for the past six years.
The most recent data shows that means 3,100 kids in these five counties could miss meals in the summer.
Murphy says part of the issue is that these counties are rural, "Summer, the nature of it, it’s harder to reach the kids and get them nutritious meals that they need."
He adds that the program is needed to keep kids on track educationally during the summer, "It's important for them to have nutrition as well as enrichment activities, so they can be ready for that new school year."
Murphy hopes, once people understand just how important the program is, the community will step up. For information on how to sign up to be a sponsor or site host call the Illinois State Board of Education at this number (800) 545-7892.