Officials with the Petal and Hattiesburg school districts continue to fight hunger during the summer months with the annual Summer Food Service Program.
The Petal School District’s summer meal program, which kicked off June 3, continues through July 19, while the Hattiesburg program is underway with several different ending dates. Meals will not be served July 3, 4 and 5 due to the Fourth of July holiday.
According to Danny Dillistone, the child nutrition administrator for the Petal School District, the program, which has served families for more than 14 years, is designed to provide free and cheap meals to students and families throughout the summer months.
“Obviously, we want to feed children,” Dillistone said. “There are children out there in the surrounding communities that may not get a regular meal. The Petal School District has made a commitment to help feed our children when school is on break.”
Dillistone said the program provides nutritious meals to children during the vacation periods that are similar to meals offered under the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs during the school year.
The breakfast meal provides sausage or chicken biscuits as well as cereal, Pop Tarts or cereal bars.
The program is free for children 18 years old or younger and $3 for adults during lunch or $2 during breakfast. He said these programs help families who may not be able to afford the increase of grocery bills during the break.
“Summer can be tough on family finances,” he said. “According to a recent national survey of low-income families, 43 percent say it’s harder to make ends meet during the summer months. Families spending more on food say that, on average, their grocery bill is about $300 higher every month when kids are out of school.”
There is no need for proof of identification or applications, according to Dillistone. Petal Upper Elementary and Petal High School will offer breakfast from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. consisting of sausage or chicken biscuits, cereal, pop-tarts or cereal bars. PUES and PHS have different lunch menus but will both be serving meals from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Menus can be found on the Petal Child Nutrition Facebook and Twitter pages as well as their website, www.petalschools.com.
“Petal School District’s Child Nutrition Program served 56,881 various breakfast, lunch and supper meals last summer,” Dillistone said. “I think that shows that we are feeding some hungry children.”
The HPSD summer feeding program is also free to children 18 years and younger. Adult meals will be $2.25 for breakfast and $3.75 for lunch. Breakfast is from 7:30 to 8:45 a.m. Lunch is from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Burger Middle School’s program will run through June 28 while Woodley Elementary School’s will serve meals until July 12, and Lillie Burney STEAM Academy’s program through July 19.
Alexsis Caston, director of child nutrition for the HPSD, said the district’s program is more than 10-years old and is the most successful in the area. She also said it serves more than 1,000 meals daily to children during the summer months.
“I enjoy (the program),” she said. “The SFSP is an awesome program that provides two nutritious meals a day during the summer. We offer support to working parents, church groups and other summer programs by providing meals.”
Petal Children’s Task Force Director Demaris Lee said she thinks the program is an amazing opportunity for families to get food if needed.
“[The Summer Meal Program] is a wonderful program,” Lee said. “We try to tell all of the families about it. We want them to go.”
She said her only problem with the program is that some of the children’s parents may be working and unable to take their kids to the meals. The Petal Children’s Task Force is a food pantry that provides boxes of foods to those in need. Lee said, during the summer, they put food in the boxes that a child would be able to make without turning on a stove.
Though Petal and Hattiesburg school districts have summer programs, the Lamar County School District does not. School district Superintendent Tess Smith said though they do not currently have a feeding program during the summer months, the district is working towards it.
“Our goal is to have at least one [summer meal program] by next summer,” Smith said.