Food Programs Hard to Sustain in Rural Areas

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Fewer children have access to free meals in summer months

By Molly Hensley-Clancy / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

This summer, when South Side Area School District in the southwest corner of Beaver County sent home a flier with locations where children could get “free, healthy meals,” parents at Harshbarger Mobile Home Park in Hookstown were upset by the changes.

“I threw it away when I saw it,” one mother said. “How’s that going to help me?”

Last summer, kids at Harshbarger had to walk only a few feet down the dirt and gravel roads of their trailer court to reach the Lunch Bus, a converted school bus that the district sent to three trailer parks in the county. Any child who showed up could eat a free meal on the bus, which was packed with coolers of food.

This year, South Side was forced to shut down its summer meals programs. To get the free meal their kids qualify for, parents at Harshbarger have to drive them 12 miles to a site run by another school district, a more than 20-minute ride on winding rural roads. None of the parents interviewed say they are willing or able to make the trip.

The fate of the Lunch Bus at Harshbarger is symptomatic of a larger problem in other rural school districts. In these areas, federal regulations, geography and recent budget cuts conspire to make running a Summer Food Service Program difficult.

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