Summer lunch programs difficult to offer in rural areas - WSIL-TV 3 Southern Illinois

Summer lunch programs difficult to offer in rural areas

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JOHNSON COUNTY (WSIL) -- Thirty-three counties in Illinois are without summer meal programs. Seven of them - Hamilton, Hardin, Johnson, Pope, Washington, Wayne and White - are here in southern Illinois. 

"Our major population center isn't in the city limits of Vienna where the school building is located. It's spread across 300 square miles," said Vienna High School Superintendent Joshua Stafford. 

Vienna High School sits in Johnson County. Superintendent Joshua Stafford says while there is certainly a need in the county, financially a summer meal program isn't feasible.

"You have to have at least one person here ordering that food, preparing, serving and cleaning up afterwards, washing dishes and cleaning your cafeteria area," said Stafford. 

He explained that the major issue for many is getting to the school without the bus. 

Food Service Director Charlotte Dixon says in past years when the district offered a summer meal program, there was low attendance. 

"With us being such rural area, the amount of kids that we could get here was very, very low. We would only feed like 10 to 15 kids," said Dixon.

The state's reimbursement rate per meal is nowhere close to schools breaking even. To make it more difficult for struggling families, JR Russell with the Marion Ministerial Alliance explained food pantries run low this time of year. 

"About the end of May, when school lets out, that's when we see our biggest increase and our biggest jump in terms of demand," said Russell. 

Russell asks that during the busy summer months folks think of donating to their local pantry. 

According to the Summer Food Service Program in Illinois, only one in nine eligible children receive meals through a summer meal program. 

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