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Mississippi To Hand Out 2-Million Free Summer Lunches

By Jeffrey Hess | Published 12 Jun 2012 04:30pm | comments

Mississippi will hand out nearly 2-million free lunches to children around the statethis summer. MPB's Jeffrey Hess reports that Mississippi ranks next to last for feeding its neediest children.

Every day, at hundreds of sites around Mississippi, about 30-thousand kids line up for a free lunch.

About 300 will pass through the Chastain Middle School in Jackson.

Among them is 11-year old Makayla Brown, who describes that day's lunch.

"Cinnamon roll. Hamburger. Fries and something else. (reporter: you said you would eat at home. What would you eat at home if you were not here?) Pizza rolls. Popcorn. Candy and ice cream. It is desert. I don't like food like I like desert," Brown said.

School might be out for Brown, but her parents still have to go to work.

The federal government sponsors a free lunch program for every Mississippi kid under 18 to replace the lunch meal they would receive during the normal school year.

Beck Bounds with the Mississippi Department of Education says the free lunch is the only healthy meal some of the children will get each day.

"There are a lot of families that work. Two parents working every day, leaving early in the morning. They are not there to make sure their children are eating adequately. So we fill that gap for them," Bounds said.

Still, according to new data from the Food Research and Action center, only 7-percent of Mississippi kids who get free or reduced lunch during the school year also received a free lunch during the summer months last year.

Chastain Middle School Cafeteria manager Tosha Davis says she can tell which child is not getting enough food at home.

"Especially when they go to ask for more vegetables, you know that that child will eat. Because 9 times out of 10 they may ask for an extra cookie or extra cinnamon roll but when they go to ask for a vegetable you want to give them that. Most of the time they are hungry, 'I am so hungry', and your heart goes out. So either they like it or they are trying to get all what they can in," Davis said.

Mississippi ranked 49th in providing lunches to the poorest kids in the state last year, which is actually an improvement over the previous summer when the state ranked dead last.

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