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Students struggle with summer hunger

By Catherine Cuellar, KERA 90.1 Reporter

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/kera/local-kera-520197.mp3

Dallas, TX –

Cuellar: The Kids Cafe at the Wesley Community Center is one of Fort Worth's busiest - serving almost 100 children each weekday.

[sound: kids saying grace before eating]

Cuellar: During the schoolyear, kids eat twice after school before parents pick them up.

Irma Hernandez, Wesley United Center: Everyday they arrive at 2:30. We're going to feed them, one meat, two vegetables, fruit, and milk everyday. They get a snack at 4:30 - juice and cookies.

Cuellar: In the summer, Wesley Community Center extends its hours.

Hernandez: From 7:30 to 6, we feed them breakfast in here.

Cuellar: But even with programs like Wesley's, which is supported by the Tarrant Area Food Bank, the majority of impoverished school kids do not get assistance during summer months. On a typical summer weekday morning, Evette Childs' 8-year-old son James walks to a convenience store near their housing project in south Dallas for breakfast. He passes a wall of beer refrigerators to place his order...

James Childs, 8: sausage and egg sandwich with jelly, no cheese

Cuellar: ...and pays the cashier through a counter-to-ceiling window of bullet-proof glass. But while Evette is at work, James eats lunch and an afternoon snack at a Central Dallas Ministries summer food program, which gives her peace of mind.

Evette Childs: I work in Plano, Texas and my hours are from 7am to 7pm. He eats better than he does at school. And in the summertime, five days a week I'm in school, on the weekends, I'm at work. So it's very helpful to me.

Cuellar: However, summer food programs have waiting lists and have been forced to reduce capacity, in part because of rising utility costs. Debbie Solis directs family services at Voice of Hope ministries in West Dallas, with food provided by the North Texas Food Bank.

Debbie Solis, Voice of Hope: The church that actually supported us last year told us that when they looked back the summer the bills were so high, they realized that there was no way we could be out there for the summer. The electric bill was doubled. The water bill was doubled. Money is really a big reason that we have a waiting list, a lot of children here, because there are not enough sites in the area for them.

Cuellar: Cost impacts not only service providers, but also the families in need of their services.

Solis: Every summer program, the majority of them want a small fee. We're the 11th poorest community in the United States. $25 pays a water bill, pays an electric bill. So you're talking about if they put their children in a program, they're not going to have money for their bills.

Cuellar: Solis refers families on the waiting list for her program to food pantries. But according to Kaitlin Hammond with the North Texas Food Bank, their shelves are also understocked during summer months.

Kaitlin Hammond, North Texas Food Bank: People are on vacation. And there's not a major holiday. People aren't thinking about food like we do at the holidays. Thanksgiving and Christmas. During the summer that's not as much on people's minds that others might go hungry.

Cuellar: Hammond and others say more program sites, food donations, and lower fees are needed. Second Harvest food banks and Central Dallas Ministries currently feed less than 10% of more than 188,000 youth in Dallas and Fort Worth ISD's free and reduced lunch programs.

For KERA 90.1, I'm Catherine Cuellar.