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In 2017, the summer food service program served 1.3 million meals and snacks statewide.

MUSCATINE — In Muscatine 2,413 students or 49 percent qualify for free or reduced lunch. Almost 199,000 or 41 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunch in the State of Iowa. During the school year, these students can count on a hot meal each weekday. But during the summer months, things fall apart. 

The Iowa Department of Education is looking for sponsors for a federally funded program that provides nutritious meals or snacks to children in low-income areas of the state during the summer months. 

According to the Department of Education, nearly 200,000 Iowa students who qualify for free or reduced-price meals during the school year don't have a sponsored meal program during the summer. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Summer Food Service Program partners with groups to try and bridge that summer meal gap.

They do this by partnering with public and private schools, local government agencies and nonprofit organizations. To qualify, a site must be in a low-income neighborhood where at least 50 percent of the children are eligible for free and reduced-price lunch.

Shane Orr, executive director of United Way Muscatine said that it is important to get these programs in place for the summer months.

"I had a teenager," Orr said. "I know it can get expensive to have them home all day long."

Orr said that United Way Muscatine is still in the process of planning for their summer programming. But he said they have done these hot meals during the past few summers, they are planning on serving them again. Last year he said they served an average of 400 meals each day.

"It allows those students to still have a hot meal every weekday," Orr said. "Some families have to make decisions on whether they will pay for food or pay for rent."

When community partners offer services like these lunches during the summer, Orr said they take one more hard decision off someone's plate. 

"On the flip side it helps families stretch their food budget over the summer," Orr said. "If they know their students can eat for free, then they don’t have to buy as much from the grocery store."

Orr emphasized that what they offered was only one part of the support network within Muscatine. 

"It’s only one piece in the overall picture of what is out there in the community," Orr said. "You have several food pantries and other places to help families that might be struggling."

The Department of Education is holding a informational webinar on February 22 from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. for those interested in getting involved with the Summer Food Service Program. 

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