CADILLAC — In Michigan, 1,369,250 people are struggling with hunger, and 345,130 of them are children, according to domestic hunger-relief organization Feeding America.
That means one in seven people struggle with hunger and one in six children struggle with hunger, according to the organization’s website.
During the school year, some students have access to meals through their school.
For example, Cadillac Area Public Schools Superintendent Jen Brown said all kids in kindergarten through fourth grade in the district get free breakfast and lunch during the school year.
However, when school is out for summer break children don’t have these predictable meals anymore, which can be a burden for the family, she said.
Food is key for nutrition, and nutrition is important, Cadillac’s District Health Department No. 10 Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Supervisor Anne Bianchi said.
The immediate effects of poor nutrition are fatigue and a low immune system that leaves someone more vulnerable to viruses. Long term effects include diabetes and cancer, she said.
The following are what local organizations are doing to help provide children and families with food over the summer and what resources are available.
Schools and YMCA team up to help feed children
“Food is definitely pretty important to us,‘ Brown said.
There are some families in the school district that qualify for free and reduced lunch and might not have the same resources for food at home as they have during the school year.
That can be a big burden on a family during the summer months and so the school is making the commitment to help kids get food and participating in the Meet Up and Eat Up program.
Meet Up and Eat Up, also called the Summer Food Service Program, was created to ensure that children in lower-income areas could continue to receive nutritious meals during long school vacations when they do not have access to the national school lunch or breakfast programs, according to the Michigan Department of Education website.
Cadillac High School and other locations in the community are offering free meals for kids and all of the food provided meets Food and Drug Administration requirements for lunch used throughout the year, Brown said.
The school wants to try and eliminate challenges to learning. A student can’t focus on learning when they have an empty belly and the school tries to make sure students’ basic needs are met, she said.
Deb Dyer, Cadillac Area YMCA Healthy Living Specialist, said the Cadillac Area YMCA is also participating in the Meet up and Eat Up program.
She said it’s a way to provide meals and give kids access to food they didn’t have before.
She said kids up to 18 years old can have the meal for free and adults can purchase the meal for $4.50.
“It’s important for our community to have this resource so the Y is glad to be a part of that and make it happen for kids in our community,‘ she said.
The following is the list of Cadillac locations participating in Meet Up and Eat Up, according to the Michigan Department of Education website:
• Cadillac Area YMCA: A snack is available from 10 to 10:30 a.m. and lunch is available from 11:30 a.m. to noon.
• Camp Torenta: Breakfast is available from 8:45 to 9:30 a.m. and lunch is available from noon to 1 p.m.
• Cadillac High School: Breakfast is available from 7:45 to 8:15 a.m. and lunch is available from 11 a.m. to noon.
• Emmanuel Lutheran Church: Lunch is available from 11:45 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. and a snack is available from 2:30 to 3 p.m.
What Osceola County is offering students and families
Mecosta-Osceola Intermediate School District is one of 16 Michigan school districts and intermediate school districts selected for a program that provides food benefits during the summer, according to a Michigan Department of Health and Human Services press release.
The district was selected for summer 2019 to provide families with the Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) for Children program in its district area who qualify for reduced or free lunches during the school year.
The program started on June 1 and will continue until Sept. 2.
"The ISD was chosen because there are not nearby (Meet Up and Eat Up) locations where children who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches during the school year can go to get meals (during) summer break," Department of Human Health and Services Public Information Officer Bob Wheaton wrote in an email.
This program will provide families in Osceola and Mecosta counties $30 in nutritious food each month for the three months of summer, containing items such as milk, eggs, fresh fruits and vegetables.
Cards and program materials were mailed directly to families eligible to participate and are pre-loaded with a food package containing nutritious foods families can redeem in any WIC-authorized store.
Once the family calls the number on the back of the card and enters a Personal Identification Number, the family can begin redeeming benefits.
School districts were selected based on recommendations from the United States Department of Agriculture, the Michigan Department of Education and the WIC program and focused on local access to food service programs in the area.
Areas without sufficient summer food service programs, given the number of eligible students, were prioritized for this summer, according to the MDHHS press release.
"There tend to be fewer locations in more rural areas, so we want those children to also have access to food," Wheaton said.
Mecosta-Osceola Intermediate School District Superintendent Steve Locke did not respond to inquiries on the program.
Other options for families
Bianchi said there’s a couple of very nice options for families to access food in the summer, including the food service program Meet Up and Eat Up.
Kids in school get the benefits of having lunch during the school year so this program makes this resource available for them during the summer break too.
There is the summer EBT card for kids that qualify for free and reduced lunches which is sponsored by the USDA and MDHHS.
She also still wants to encourage families to sign up for WIC, especially if they have children 5 and under. Single fathers or grandparents raising children can also be eligible for WIC and a family of four can make $47,638 a year and still be eligible for WIC, she said.
“That’s a huge deal,‘ she said.
Bianchi said some people think they have to have Medicaid or food stamps to be eligible for WIC, but they don’t.
Those eligible for WIC can also participate in Project Farm Resources Expanding and Supporting Health (FRESH), which is a federally funded program by the USDA.
This program expands the awareness and use of farmers’ markets in addition to increasing the sales at the markets, according to the program’s agency guidebook.
The WIC Project FRESH program operates June 1 through Oct. 31 each year. Coupon booklets are provided to clients in WIC to purchase eligible, locally grown, fresh, unprepared fruits and vegetables at WIC-authorized farmers’ markets and roadside stands.
The total benefit received is $25, five $5 coupons, per client, according to the guidebook.
Bianchi said a family can get $50 total toward coupon benefits for purchasing fresh fruits and vegetables at farmers markets and food stands.
She said a significant number of children are hungry in Michigan.
“They need to be aware of what’s available in the community when school is out,‘ she said.