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National pilot program targeting child hunger in the summer launches in Grand Rapids

Groceries, including milk, eggs and produce, sitting on a counter.
Lindsey Smith
Michigan Radio
Officials display the healthy food low income parents could buy through the pilot program.

More than half a million Michigan kids qualified for free and reduced lunches last year. But only about 1 in 6 of them took advantage of the programs offered during the three month summer break.

By the numbers

  • The nation: 18.5 million children are eligible – 3.3 million (18%) participated
  • In Michigan: 546,000 children are eligible – 92,500 (17%) participated

The summer feeding model is not working, says Paul Baumgartner, Director of Nutrition Services for Grand Rapids Public Schools.

“It isn’t reaching as many children as it should. And that includes our rural poor, as well as our urban poor across the state and the country.”

Under the pilot program, parents of children who get free and reduced lunch will get $60 dollars a month (in June, July and August) to spend on groceries that meet nutrition standards. Under the current summer model, parents must transport their kids to school to eat. 

Transportation can present more challenges for low-income parents in rural areas, according to Howard Leikert, Nutrition Training and Programs Supervisor at Michigan’s Department of Education.

“It would be much easier for a family to shop once a week in order to get those foods and not have to drive 5 miles every day to get that meal”

The money can only be spent groceries that meet high nutrition standards, similar to the Woman and Infant and children or WIC program. The money would be loaded electronically onto a card that would function just like a WIC card at authorized stores.

The pilot program will include 5,000 children in Grand Rapids. Half participating in the study will get a card and half won’t. The study will determine if the program did provide nutrition for low-income children better than the current model. If it works, the model could be adopted throughout the state and perhaps the country.

Lindsey Smith helps lead the station'sAmplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.