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Empty backpacks, empty bellies

#Food4ThoughtOK campaign combats food insecurity for Oklahoma students

Students enjoy a meal during the school year at Central High School

When school is over and summer break ensues, consistent access to food is also over for many students. Hunger ensues.

More than half of Oklahoma public school students qualify for free-and-reduced lunches—that’s 61 percent of the student population. But when school is out, only about 6 percent of those students use the federally funded Summer Food Service Program.

That’s where #Food4ThoughtOK comes in.

Launched in 2017, the public awareness campaign, spearheaded by State Superintendent Joy Hoffmeister and a network of partners, has led to a 9 percent increase in free meals served to Oklahoma kids ages 18 and under, according to a press release. An estimated one in four Oklahoma children are considered food insecure. Research shows that food-insecure students have worse academic and health outcomes than those who have regular access to food.

In Tulsa County, 22.7 percent of children are considered food insecure, and 80 percent of all Tulsa Public Schools students are eligible for free-and-reduced lunch, according to a January article in TulsaPeople.

That’s where TPS Summer Café comes in.

“TPS Summer Café combats food insecurity within our community. The program also grows community trust and builds healthy relationships with our community partners,” director of operations Mikael Harp said in an email.

“We have had steady participation in comparison to previous years,” Harp said. “We continue to analyze our data, find opportunities for growth and stay in communication with our community partners, non-profit organizations, and state agencies to combine resources and discuss best practice strategies.

Like Tulsa, Hoffmeister said she expects statewide participation to grow this summer. She said in the press release that the #Food4ThoughtOK campaign “effectively leverages federal dollars” to help fill empty stomachs.

The #Food4ThoughtOK campaign is a partnership between Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) and Hunger Free Oklahoma. No registration or paperwork is required to receive a meal. For more information, including locations of sites with meals, text FOOD to 877877, or go to meals4kidsOK.org.

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