#FoodForThought: Encouraging kids to fill up this summer (Red Dirt Report)

By Jason Doyle Oden

OKLAHOMA CITY — Around three out of every five Oklahoma students qualify for free and reduced-priced lunches at school.

Now that summer is here, officials are trying to get the word out kids 18 and under can eat free until the next school year begins. Recent history shows Oklahoma does not do a good job in getting students to access summer feeding programs when school is not in session.

Last week, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister launched a public awareness campaign to increase the number of students who access the summer feeding program. It is called #FoodforThought.

According to the Oklahoma Department of Education, only 6.4 percent of those students eligible for the free and reduced lunches use the summer feeding program. That puts Oklahoma 51st for participation in the program; dead last.

Hofmeister recently visited feeding sites in Oklahoma City and Tulsa to help bring awareness to the #FoodforThought campaign and help feed more children across Oklahoma.

“As a state, it is critical that we work together to provide healthy meals to as many hungry Oklahoma children as we can during summer,” Hofmeister said. “The #FoodforThought campaign, in conjunction with the efforts of our Faith-Based Advisory group and hundreds of partner sponsors and sites around the state, will help ensure that a significantly higher percentage of our children and young people have nutrition supports this summer that will strengthen their ability to learn when school starts again in the fall.”

According to a profile created by the Oklahoma Policy Institute in 2015, more than 650,000 Oklahomans are “food insecure.” That’s defined as inconsistent access to enough food for a healthy lifestyle.

The total number of Oklahoma students as of October 2016 who qualify for the free and reduced lunch program is 425,782 according to the Oklahoma Department of Education. Oklahoma had 692,608 students enrolled at that time.


The percentage of students eligible for free or reduced meals in the Oklahoma City Public School District is 84 percent. Of those students, 17,483 participated in the breakfast program and 31,443 participated in the lunch program during the 2015-2016 school year. That year, 45,996 students were enrolled in public and charter schools according to the District’s Statistical Profile 2015-2016.

The summer feeding program is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Oklahoma has more than 600 feeding sites. The children simply show up, and they can eat. There’s no paperwork or a need to pre-register.

The Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma helps manage more than 120 of those feeding sites in central and western Oklahoma.

“While most children enjoy summer break, many children in Oklahoma are going home to empty cupboards,” said Katie Fitzgerald, chief executive officer of the Regional Food Bank. “During the summer, electricity bills are high. Parents, who rely on free or reduced-priced school breakfasts and lunches, also have extra financial stress of providing meals for their children. Thankfully, children can visit a Summer Feeding site to ensure they will have enough to eat.”

Last year, the Regional Food Bank provided free summer meals at 124 sites through the USDA’s Summer Food Service Program and a private program sponsored by Sodexo. More than 6,400 chronically hungry children were served 211,000 meals in 53 counties in western and central Oklahoma.

Families who are interested in finding a serving site for their children this summer can text FOOD to 877877 and enter their zip code for information on three of the closest serving sites.



Margaret (Maggie) den Harder obtained a Bachelor of Arts in Christian Theology from Seattle Pacific University and a Master of Public Administration from the University of Oklahoma. Originally from the Pacific Northwest area of Washington state, Maggie has called Tulsa home for the past 8 years. Since living in Tulsa, Maggie has worked in the legal field, higher education administration, and the nonprofit sector as well as actively volunteering in the community. Maggie also recently spent time at the City of Tulsa as a consultant and wrote the content for Resilient Tulsa, an action-oriented strategy designed to better equity in Tulsa. Through her work, community involvement, and personal experiences, Maggie is interested in the intersection of the law and mental health and addiction treatment issues, preventative and diversion programs, and maternal mental health, particularly post-partum depression and post-partum psychosis. While working at Oklahoma Policy Institute as a research intern, Maggie further developed an interest in family dynamics and stability, economic security-related stress, and intergenerational trauma.

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