CINCINNATI -- Nearly 680,000 children in Ohio don't know when or where they'll get their next meal.
That's nearly one in four kids living in what experts call "food insecure" households.
During the school year, those kids get free or reduced-price lunches at school, but summer break means an end to those meals.
To help those children, the U.S. Department of Agriculture operates a Summer Food Service Program at more than 1,200 sites across 79 Ohio counties.
"Too many families don't know about this summer feeding program," U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said Wednesday during a conference call with reporters.
Brown said that in 2011, only 66,000 Ohio children used the summer food program – or roughly one in 10 of the kids who were eligible.
And this summer, the programs are available in suburban neighborhoods that haven't had to worry about hungry children too much in the past, said Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the Ohio Association of Second Harvest Food Banks.
Near Columbus, those communities include Upper Arlington, Westerville and Worthington, she said.
Hamilton County has 163 programs in all, according to Brown's office. There are dozens in Cincinnati and others in communities including Norwood, North Bend and Cheviot, according to the Ohio Department of Education. Butler County has locations in Middletown, Hamilton and even West Chester, according to ODE.
Washington United Church of Christ in Camp Washington has been operating a summer food program for years and has 60 children enrolled for the program this summer, said the Rev. Pam DeFusco.
More Than About Food
With programs like this, she said, "you are giving our generation of children in poverty a chance that their parents never had."
DeFusco said the program at her church serves children from Camp Washington, Over-the-Rhine and Lower Price Hill. The church has two vans it uses to pick up the kids who need transportation.
The summer program operates Monday through Thursday, and the kids get food from the Freestore Foodbank to take home at the end of the day Thursday so they have something to eat over the weekend, DeFusco said.
The church gets other funding to take the kids on field trips to the zoo and museums and makes sure the children read books and practice their math skills throughout the summer.
For the teenagers who are too old for the elementary school stuff, the church provides job readiness training to teach them the importance of being reliable and hard working, DeFusco said.
"With our kids, it's really more than about food," she said. "It's about teaching them skills to give them chances."
For information about summer food programs in southwest Ohio, go to https://oh.cnpcares.com/summer/SfspFoodServByCnty.asp . Click on a county in the map of Ohio to see where programs are offered there.
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