School-District Cuts Affect Summer Meals for Children

By Alfred Lubrano
Philadelphia Inquirer Staff Writer

Fewer students will be eating free breakfast and lunch in summer school this year because budget troubles are forcing the School District of Philadelphia to reduce the number of academic and enrichment programs it offers.

This year, about 10,000 students will be enrolled in summer programs, nearly half the 19,000 who attended in 2011, a district spokesperson said. Summer school will be available only to high school seniors who need credits to graduate, special education students and pupils who qualify for education programs funded by federal grants.

That means parents will have to scramble to feed children — many of them low-income — who are accustomed to free school meals but will not receive them.

In the current fiscal year, the district faces a $26 million shortfall, but it will grow to $218 million by fiscal year 2013, the spokesperson said.

The primary local agencies that run feeding sites — the Philadelphia Department of Parks and Recreation, the Philadelphia Housing Authority, and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia — will try to take up the slack and allow additional children to sign up and eat meals. Officials say that these programs offer enough food, supplied by the federal government, to feed the students who will not attend summer school.

But it may not be clear to parents where they can send their children to eat, anti-hunger advocates say.

The city plans to let people know about feeding sites through websites or the city information number, 311.

“While the school district is reducing the number of children it’ll serve this summer, the city is being really aggressive so that every child will be able to get healthy meals,” said Mary Horstmann, deputy policy director for the city.

In a week, people will be able to find sites for free meals for children 18 and under at the city website, Horstmann said.

Last fall, the school district informed parents through letters that the summer program would be greatly reduced, the district spokesperson said.

This summer, there will be 1,000 feeding sites throughout the city, the same number as last year, Horstmann said. Meals will be distributed at locations including recreation centers, various PHA sites, play streets in neighborhoods. A typical lunch includes a turkey sandwich, a carton of 1 percent milk, and a piece of fruit.

About 138,000 students ate free or reduced-price meals in schools last year, Horstmann said. Of that number, 91,000 children were fed meals in the summertime.

That left nearly 50,000 children who received meals in school but did not eat access them during the summer. For years, hunger experts have tried to figure out ways to reach these children during July and August.

“Some are eating at home, and it’s an added strain on the family’s budget that wasn’t used to including breakfasts and lunches,” said Anne Ayella, assistant director of Nutritional Development Services, part of the archdiocese. “The family will wind up eating less adequate foods that are cheaper.”

Nutritional Development Services runs 500 summer-feeding sites in the five-county Philadelphia area smf fed nearly 1 million meals last summer.

While many people associate the cold months with hunger, summer is actually the hungriest time in the Philadelphia area because school is out.

During the summer, all meals are free, because feeding sites are usually in low-income areas where 50 percent of students receive free or reduced-price meals during the school year, Ayella said.

Compounding family problems this year are higher food prices, said Marlo DelSordo, director of communications for Philabundance, the area’s largest hunger-relief agency.

And while the economy is said to be rebounding, that is not evident among the more than 25 percent of the Philadelphia population that lives in poverty.

“We are seeing increased need at the food-pantry level this year,” DelSordo added.

Contact Alfred Lubrano at 215-854-4969 or

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