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USDA Secretary Promotes Local Free Summer Meals Program

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack helped serve lunch at a Baltimore city school Friday.

He was part of a delegation of city and state officials, helping to promote the district’s summer meals program, which has 400 sites citywide.

That’s down from about 600 last summer, but city officials said they cut the number to be more efficient. Some of last year’s sites had only a few children, while others were crowded. In addition, some sites did not last for the entire summer. Officials said that won’t happen this year.

At Hamilton Middle/Elementary School, one of 115 meals stations located in schools, students stood in line, waiting to be served sandwiches, fruit, salads, vegetables and milk. After dishing out meals, Vilsack said more than 350 thousand students statewide get free or reduced meals during school days, but that number is greatly reduced in the summer. “Only about 75,000 of those kids have the opportunity that you saw here today,” Vilsack said. “We still have work to do.”

Vilsack pointed out that the nutritious meals the students receive in the summer program can help in fighting the city’s and the nation’s obesity rates. “One-third of students are obese or at risk of being obese,” he said. “They need balanced meals to help bring the obesity rate down. This is also about…driving down health care costs and it’s even about national security. Only 25 percent of those between 19 and 24 are fit for military service.”

Students can get two meals a day through the program up until the first day of school. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who also helped on the serving line, said some parents erroneously believe that their children have to be enrolled in a summer school program at the school sites to participate in the meals program. “Any child can come and eat even if you’re not taking classes, you can come and have a meal,” Rawlings-Blake said.

City officials said they served 12 million meals to students last summer. The mayor said she hopes to increase that number by 20 percent this year to more than 14 million. Parents can dial 211 to find the nearest summer meals site for their children.