Free summer meal program available in Washington County, VA

Washington County, Virginia school officials say 50 percent of their students eat free or reduced-price lunch. (L. Owens, WCYB)

There is an increasing number of children receiving free and reduced lunch in southwest Virginia. That leaves school staff worried about whether many could go hungry during the summer break.

"It's humbling to think that honestly that we have students out there that don't have the opportunity to eat a meal every day," Washington County Schools Director of Human Resources and Operations Chad Wallace said.

About 50 percent of children in Washington County, Virginia receive free or reduced-price lunches. According to the county's child nutrition coordinator Valerie Cupp, that number is increasing every year.

Cupp said, "Many families that rely on school meals throughout the year may be struggling at this time to provide food for their children."

According to No Kid Hungry, low-income families spend an additional $316 a month on groceries during the summer and 69-percent report having to choose between food and utilities. No Kid Hungry is a national campaign of Share Our Strength, an organization working to end hunger and poverty.

"They could have hardships of determining whether to pay for rent or purchase food during the summer months," Cupp said.

Those are some of the reasons why Washington County schools are joining Bristol and other localities that provide free summer meals through a program funded by the USDA. Any child under 18, whether a student or not, can eat breakfast or lunch for free during the week.

"One of the main meals kids get during the school year are breakfast and lunch. We certainly don't want that process to stop once the summer begins," Wallace said. "Kids go home for the summer. We want to ensure that they have the opportunity to be fed and they can eat a healthy meal throughout the summer."

Last year, the program in Virginia provided 3.7 million meals at 1,500 different sites through the Department of Education and No Kid Hungry, getting the attention of local lawmakers.

"We know that children that are well-fed, grow better, learn better, and have a better lifestyle at home. That's what's important to make sure children aren't suffering from anxiety of wondering where their next meal is coming from," Delegate Todd Pillion said.

Children do not have to be a student in the Washington County, Virginia system to receive a free meal. You can text 'food' to 877-877 to find the closest site to you. You can also find a list of locations here.

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