Iowa Summer Food Service program sees greater need, seeks sponsors


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A statewide food service program is calling for additional sponsors after witnessing a discrepancy between the number of children who qualify for the program and the actual number of children served.  

The Iowa Summer Food Service Program is administered by the Iowa Department of Education to provide nutritious meals to low-income families during the summer.

“Summer Food Program is designed to fill a nutrition gap,” said Stephanie Dross, a consultant at Iowa Department of Education.

Although the food program reaches statewide, there are still students who are missed — more than half of the children from low-income families are not reached. Around 195,000 children qualify for the low-cost or free-meal plan; however, the group is only reaching approximately 15,600 children —about 8 percent of the qualified population.

As a result, this year, consultants with Education Department of are trying to find new sponsors to help create more sites.

“We also have a partnership with United Way of East Central Iowa,” Dross said “They pull partners in their areas and try to connect sponsors with the Summer Food Program.”

Iowa City has five sites that provide low-income children with nutritious food. This local program is sponsored by the Neighborhood Centers of Johnson County.

“We often try to link programming with food,” said Diane Dingbaum, associate director of Neighborhood Centers of Johnson County. “We serve lunch and afterwards provide a few hours of health and wellness programming.”

United Way of East Central Iowa tries to think of creative ways to bring sponsors on board with the program, said Judy Stoffel, community building manager with United Ways of East Central Iowa.

“Last year when we tried to expand, we generally reached out to youth services, such as Four Oaks and New Horizons,” said Stoffel. “This year, we are trying to expand by reaching out to congregate dining sites.”

United Way isn’t stopping there. To get sponsors on board, it also tries to educate them about the funds available when participating with the program.

“Our goal is to expand and educate sponsors about the funds available by the federal government that are not being utilized,” Stoffel said.

Individuals involved with the Summer Food Service Program hope the community uses the benefits involved with the program.

“Children will receive nutritious food and needs, parents will save some extra dollars, and foodservice employees could be hired to work in the summer … everybody wins,” Dross said.”

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