School winds down, summer meal programs for kids gear up

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The end of the school year is right around the corner, and for tens of thousands of Minnesota children who rely on free or reduced-price lunches, it could mean the end of reliable meals for the next three months.

During the school year, more than 312,000 students in the state eat breakfast and/or lunch at their schools each day at a free or reduced price, according to Second Harvest Heartland.

The challenge during the summer is to make sure those kids still get regular meals. But the Minnesota Education Department says only about 15 percent of needy children participate in free summer meal programs.

School districts and other agencies around the state set up dozens of free meal sites to serve those kids in places such as libraries, community centers and some schools.

Those locations don't always get a lot of kids, so some school districts are turning to food trucks to reach more people.

The St. Paul School District bought a used food truck last year to increase participation in its Summer Food Service Program, according to the St. Paul Pioner Press. The truck will start rolling on June 15, and will stop at nine different locations in the city each day.

The spots will include local parks, basketball courts, or apartment buildings that typically house low-income families, KSTP reports.

Other school districts including Minneapolis and Hopkins also use food trucks for their summer meal programs, in addition to setting up sites around the community.

A bigger challenge is to provide meals for kids who live in rural areas, because they're less likely to be close to a summer meal program site.

Second Harvest Heartland, a large food bank serving Minnesota and western Wisconsin, partners with schools and communities to set up summer meal sites for kids. You can use this interactive map on the organization's website to find the meal site closest to you.

The demand is great, the Education Department says. Last summer, there were almost 700 summer food program sites set up in Minnesota, and they served 2.4 million meals.

The meals are free to all children under the age of 19. Agencies who participate get funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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