Summer feeding programs, which provide meals to hundreds of children in Fayette County, are expecting an increase this year as already tight family budgets are stretched to provide meals kids usually get in school.
"We really worry about kids when school is out of session," said Marian Guinn, director of God's Pantry Food Bank, which serves four summer feeding locations in Fayette County.
She said it's too early to know exactly what the demand will be this summer. But, she said, overall the number of families needing food assistance through God's Pantry, which provides emergency food to needy families in 51 Kentucky counties, is up by 30 percent since the beginning of the year.
Summer feeding programs are designed to help children who normally receive breakfast and dinner through school at a free or reduced price. Children younger than 18 receive meals for free. There are 36 program sites in Fayette County. Lexington's Division of Parks and Recreation oversees 32 locations. The programs started serving children Friday, after the last day of public schools. They will continue until July 15.
Similar programs are available throughout the state.
Last year God's Pantry and Parks and Recreation combined to serve more than 70,000 meals. The money for the program comes from the federal Department of Agriculture. According to statistics from the agriculture department's Food Nutrition Service, some 3.3 million meals were served across Kentucky last year.
On the average day, 231,182 breakfasts, 541,721 lunches, 2,478 suppers and 50,283 snacks are served to Kentucky children, according to the state Nutrition and Health Services' Web site.
"A lot of kids would be hurt if this service wasn't available," said Angie Green, a manager at Parks and Recreation.
The programs offer advantages beyond a good meal.
"It forces children to interact with each other socially and positively," said Jerry Hancock, director of Parks and Recreation. "It keeps them off the street corner for a couple of hours in the middle of each summer day."
While kids who receive free meals at school fill out paperwork to show that their families meet income requirements, the summer program works a little differently.
"When a kid presents himself, we provide them with a meal," said Peggy Shugars, God's Pantry's nutrition education coordinator. "It's very much 'no questions asked.'"
Because there isn't money to advertise the program, many families learn of it only by word of mouth. Numbers usually grow as the summer progresses, Guinn said. Although some sites do use volunteers, she said, the best way the community can help is to get the word to people in need that the program is available.