Charleston, W.Va. – The West Virginia Department of Education (WVDE) kicked off its Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) at Overbrook Elementary School in Charleston today. The program supports child nutrition during the summer break when thousands of the state’s school children suffer from heightened food insecurity. The theme of this year’s program is Try Something New encouraging children to eat foods they love as well as a few new menu options.
Administered by the WVDE’s Office of Child Nutrition, the SFSP is made possible each year by funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Working with community partners throughout the state, children, 18 years-of-age and younger, receive two-to-three meals each day. Partners include boards of education, schools, colleges and universities, churches and faith-based organizations, community centers and local government agencies, parks and recreation facilities among others. Many of the sites also offer organized youth programming and recreational activities.
The SFSP is critical in West Virginia where an average of 208,000 children depend on free and reduced-priced meals during the school year. Last summer, 550 sites served an average of 21,000 meals each day. In all, more than one-half million meals were served. This summer, approximately 125 agencies will participate in more than 450 feeding sites throughout the state.
“The food gap is real and poses a struggle for our students during the summer. We alleviate that issue with this program,” said State Superintendent of Schools Dr. Steven Paine. “Families have reliable sources of nutrition for their children thanks to dedicated partners located in all regions of the state.”
As a rural state with entrenched poverty, West Virginia’s low-income students rely heavily on programs such as these. The number of students depending on free and reduced-priced meals increased almost 17 percent over the past year, and the SFSP is more than a convenience. These meals have become a necessity in many communities.