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Keeping Arizona's Children Fed This Summer

The Arizona Department of Education is trying to increase the number of free meals it provides this summer by up to 5 percent. Last year the program provided more than four million free meals.

Arizona Department of Education’s Associate Superintendent of Health and Nutrition, Mary Szafranski, says that keeping children nourished through the summer can determine their academic success during the next school year.  

“When they’re not in school, they’re not receiving a nutritious meal. They fall behind in the academic gain that they made. So we want to keep them engaged, we want to keep them nutritiously fed so when they are ready to come back to school, they’re ready to learn,” said Szafranski.

This program is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and operates at a thousand different sites around the state including schools, churches, Boys and Girls Clubs and apartment complexes. These sites provide breakfast, lunch and sometimes dinner free of charge to anyone under 18, regardless of their economic status. 

Many sites also provide meals to parents at a reduced cost.

“You know we want those parents to be role models for their children,” Szafranski said. “When they come and they join their child, the parent then becomes more involved in what that child is eating and they learn about those healthy eating habits as well."

Szafranski said these sites must meet certain standards of nutrition and include milk, protein, fruits and grain, in order to receive federal funding.

“It’s not a feeding program, it is a nutrition program,” she said.

Click here to find locations of the summer food program sites.

Rachel Lund is a graduate student at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University, a life-long NPR junkie, aunt extraordinaire, puppy mother and college football enthusiast.