During the summer, nearly half a million low-income Tennessee children lose access to school meals and healthy after-school snacks. (Photo: Victoria Harjadi, Flickr)

Tennessee’s summer nutrition program for children ranks behind most other states, and the gap is growing.

A new report from the Food Research and Action Center ranked Tennessee in the bottom half of the nation, and the number of children being fed has actually declined, according to a news release. The result is that summer meal programs in Tennessee only serve one in eight kids identified by schools as needing food assistance.

“This report highlights the great work happening in other states and the opportunity we have to do better here in Tennessee,” Tennessee Justice Center Director of Nutrition Advocacy Keith Barnes said in a prepared statement. “We can improve policies that will help us reach more hungry children.”

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When school lets out, nearly half a million low-income Tennessee children lose access to the school meals and healthy after-school snacks they receive during the regular school year, according to the news release.

Summer nutrition programs are public-private partnerships that help fill this gap by providing nutritious meals and snacks to children who might otherwise go hungry.

Meals are served throughout the state at schools, libraries, YMCAs, churches and parks, according to the news release. Children also benefit from the enrichment activities offered at the vast majority of sites-activities that keep them learning, engaged and better prepared to return to the classroom in the fall.

But the percentage of needy children receiving summer meals actually declined by 7 percent in 2016, according to the news release.

Hundreds of thousands of kids are unsure where their next meal will come from in the summer months. Barnes noted that experts see no reason for a decline since summer nutrition programs are fully funded.

“The program makes an important difference, and we want to get to the point where no Tennessee child goes hungry,” he said.

To read the entire report, click here.

For more information about the Tennessee Justice Center, click here.

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