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Program will feed children during summer break

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - More than 400 sites across West Virginia will be open to feed children this summer, an alternative to the meals provided in public schools during the year.

Nationally, more than 22 million students are fed breakfast and lunch at school each year -- a vital resource for millions of low-income students who aren't fed at home, especially not well-rounded, nutritious meals.

But come summer, those students are without that resource. On average, 58 percent of West Virginia schoolchildren depend on free and reduced-price meals at school.

"We're only reaching a very small percentage of children during the summer," said Jim Harmon, of the United States Department of Agriculture. "So we've really got to do something about that."

Local organizations -- like county school systems or nonprofit groups -- open sites to low-income students through the summer months. The idea is to give them a place to get a nutritious meal much like the one they would get in school during the academic year, ensuring nutritional meals for low-income kids.

Rick Goff, executive director of school nutrition for the state department of education, called the program a "safety net."

"And it's not only that we need to combat child hunger, but we need to do it in a healthy way," he said.

Last year, more than 452 sites were open for the program across the state. They fed, on average, more than 13,000 students each day -- or 600,000 over the entire summer. Officials say this year's program will be roughly the same size, with more than 400 sites serving children.

The full list of sites can be found on the state Department of Education's website, at http://wvde.state.wv.us/child-nutrition/sfsp/resources.html, or by contacting the Office of Child Nutrition at 304-558-3396.

The department of education released the list of feeding sites Monday, at the Boys and Girls Club in Charleston -- one of the summer's feeding sites.

Mike Farmer, program coordinator for the Boys and Girls Club, lauded the program's benefits for low-income kids in Charleston and throughout West Virginia, while framed by a collection of kid art hanging on the wall behind him.

The coloring sheet prompted kids to color their "favorite summer foods!!!" In crayon, the students had gone to work drawing grapes and cherries, watermelons and ice cream cones.

"A nutritious meal is important for them to learn, to play and to remain active of the summer months," Farmer said.

At the Boys and Girls Club, instructors concentrate on teaching kids the merits of healthy eating - and then feeding them healthy food.

"They cook the peaches so they're so good," said six-year-old Georgia Jenkins, as she sat down to her lunch.

Across from her, Rickhya Rhodes, 7, was most excited about the spaghetti -- but also about the carrots.

"I like vegetables," she said. "And fruits. And pizza."

Contact writer Shay Maunz at shay.maunz@dailymail.com or 304-348-4886.

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