72% of students in the Rochester City School District receive free or reduced meals during the school year, however free summer meals reach less than 30% of children that need them.
Rochester has one of the highest child poverty rates in the nation, with 50% of children under the age of 18 living in poverty. Many of them get their only meals of the day when they're at school, "a hungry child is not going to be focused on learning," explained Jerome Underwood the Senior Director of Youth Development and Family Services at the Rochester City School District, "he or she is going to be focused elsewhere."
Many students who receive free or reduced lunch go hungry when school is out of session for the summer, "we do the emergency food and everyone thinks that the numbers spike at the holiday time," explained Tom Ferraro, the Executive Director of Foodlink, "and the truth of the matter is that the biggest time of need is during July and August." Erika Rosenberg, the Associate Director of the Center for Governmental Research added, "less than a quarter of kids that could benefit from summer meals are actually receiving them."
Community organizations say knowledge is power when it comes to summer meals. They gathered to address the need and ways to get meals to the people who need them the most, "increase that promotion and awareness and branding so that people know what summer meals is all about, and that they can access it, and that it's open to all kids in the city, and that you don't have to register for a particular kind of program, that you can drop in to the city recreation centers or you can even drop into the school," explained Rosenberg. Mairead Hartman, Program Officer for The Community Foundation added, "we're encouraging people to do things on social media to really spread the word about the availability of summer meals as well as use of the 211 number that will be available starting in June for families to find out where they can get meals in the summer."
Community partners say if everyone works together to spread the word about the summer food service program many children who go hungry won't have to this summer.