KALISPELL, Mont. - According to national statistics, about 16 million children in America aren't getting the food they need to stay healthy.
Local food pantries across Montana are battling those numbers, not only to keep food in hungry bellies, but to create a community that keeps kids informed, engaged and healthy.
This is the third year that Kalispell has hosted the summer lunch program. Any child, ages 0 to 19 is welcomed to have free lunch Monday through Friday starting June 16.
The first year the program kicked off was in 2012 and it fed 7,802 kids. Last year there was a 66-percent increase for breakfast and 64-percent increase for lunch.
"We're really targeting children that rely on the free and reduced lunch program during the school year, so they have a place to come and get a healthy free lunch and breakfast during the summertime," said FoodCorps Service Member Jessica Manly.
Children who qualify for the free and reduced lunch program, which is funded by the government, will qualify for the summer lunch program. Both are funded by the federal government.
Superintendent Darlene Schottle says it's not just a pick-up and go lunch, there are activities for the kids to participate in as well.
"If you go over and watch the feeding program, sometimes they actually have people who are coming in to do entertainment. It's just a way to keep connected, a way to keep kids off doing some fun things together. It's a way for families to have a resource available to them during the summer months," said Flathead Schools Superintendent Darlene Schottle.
Each meal has a protein, whole grain, fruit, vegetable and milk, which goes along with what the children learn during the school year about proper nutrition.
"We're doing garden education and nutrition education in the classroom during the school day, so kids are really realizing what healthy eating is, so they can continue their adult life to making healthy nutrition choices," said Manly.
Free breakfast and lunch are served in Kalispell at the following locations:
- Elrod Elementary School: Breakfast 9-11 and lunch 11:30-1
- Lawrence Park: Lunch 11:30-1
- Woodland Park: Breakfast 7:30-9 and lunch 11:30-1
Missoula has five different locations to attend.
Bozeman also has several different locations for free summer lunches.