Summer meals program continues to expand in Janesville

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Nick Crow
Thursday, June 19, 2014

JANESVILLE—The Janesville School District is projecting it will serve nearly 20,000 more meals to students this summer than it did in 2013.

"Last year we served about 55,000 meals," said Jim Degan, manager of food services. "The year before that about 50,000, before that 20,000. We have increased sites and increased meals to include both breakfast and lunch in recent years."

The summer meals program, which began Monday, is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and run by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

"To me, it makes sense because it gives kids the ability to learn during school instead of being hungry," Degan said.

Children 18 or younger can to visit any designated site during breakfast or lunch hours and get a meal even if they don't attend summer school.

The only requirement is they eat the meal on site.

"There is a food insecurity in the community," Degan said. "In recent years, it has come more to the forefront. It's not just Janesville, it's all over the country."

The program is for any child, not just the ones who qualify for free or reduced lunch during the school year, Degan said.

In March, the district released figures showing the percentage of low-income students in Janesville has almost doubled in the past decade.

The report revealed 26 percent of students were low income during the 2004-05 school year. That number jumped to 49 percent for the 2013-14 school year.

“For some families it's difficult to decide between bills and food," Degan said. "It's a good opportunity to take advantage of."

In order to qualify as low-income family eligible for free student lunches, household income can be no more than $14,937 for the first family member and $5,226 for each additional member. For reduced lunches, the first family member income can be no more than $21,257, and income for each additional member can make no more than $7,437.

Degan said the summer program is a big plus for families because it's free to everyone.

"There is no registration, just a check-off sheet to see how many meals are being taken," Degan said. "The only limitation is that they are consumed on site."

The district will employ 45 part-time food service workers for the program, Degan said.

The meals previously were served only on the same dates as summer school, which ends in July. The change was made a couple years ago to extend the program into August, Degan said.

"We can do this as long as there is a need," Degan said. "We have the infrastructure to get more schools involved."

The meals program runs at 15 locations through July 11. It continues at seven locations through Aug. 20.

"Expectations of children these days is much higher than it used to be," Degan said. They need nourishment to learn, and the staff is happy to do this."

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