Texas ranks near the bottom when it comes to states getting nutritious, summer meals to low-income students. Many contend that it doesn't need to be that way, because free meals are offered to all North Texans 18 or under.
It’s another noisy, busy day in Dallas’ Reverchon Park Recreation Center. That’s because it’s lunch time for these 80 children enrolled in the summer camp program. Eight year–old Luigj says he can’t get enough. This is his 2nd year.
Luigj: I love it. That’s why I came back. We get to exercise, have fun, be with our friends. It’s in the summer camp, you get to have fun a lot.
Fun is just part of it, according to Andrea Cokes, with the Dallas Parks and Recreation Department. She says the free lunch is extremely important.
Andrea Cokes. Because a lot of kids don’t have food at home to eat so, this is a free program where kids can at least have one meal a day.
Federal funding through the Texas Department of Agriculture provide the free, balanced and nutritious meals. But children don’t care about such details. 9 year-old Kristen just knows she eats the lunches and likes what she had today.
Kristen: Chicken sandwiches, pickles, fruit, and sweet peas and milk.
Christy Burgess: We keep them real active. They need the energy to do that. They only get that from having a decent lunch.
Christy Burgess is Reverchon Park’s veteran Program Coordinator. She’s helped oversee summer camp here for 8 years.
Burgess: I see them tired. We always try to tell them they need to eat, or at least, if nothing else, drink some milk.
Across Texas, only nine out of a hundred children who qualify for free lunch during the school year get free summer meals. Celia Cole, CEO of The Texas Food Bank Network, says that’s because many schools close, and there just aren’t as many summer sites open. Some are churches, recreation centers, and schools. Cole is hoping that will change.
Cole: I think we just need to create some noise about the program and keep it going throughout the summer. I think it’s just a matter of making sure that word about the program is out there in the community. In as many places as possible.
Cole says North Texas is at least beating the statewide average. In Tarrant County, she says the summer nutrition program reaches 12 percent of those in need. And in Dallas, fully a quarter of those eligible for free and reduced lunch get free summer meals. Cole reminds folks that the best thing about the summer program is that any one 18 or under eats free, regardless of family income. Such thoughts never enter these campers’ minds.
Kristen: It’s fun we get to do different stuff. I like the lunch that they have.