June 6, 2013 Updated: June 6, 2013 at 8:20 am
Children don't need full bellies only when school's in session. In fact, children are at the greatest risk of experiencing hunger pangs during the summer months, said Michelle Ray, spokeswoman for Hunger Free Colorado.
"When they lose access to school meal programs, families have to stretch their budgets," she said. "The summer food service program allows us to ensure children are getting nutritious food year-round."
Her organization is one of several behind a statewide program to serve free breakfasts and lunches to kids between the ages of 1 and 18.
Other supporters are the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which funds the program nationwide, the Colorado No Kid Hungry Campaign, the Colorado Department of Education, school districts and site providers, such as community centers, churches and mobile home parks.
About 450 sites across the state will provide the no-cost meals to children Mondays through Fridays, through early August. Adults can purchase meals for $2.75. The meals meet federal nutrition guidelines.
Some of the sites also have activities for enrichment opportunities, Ray said, such as playgrounds, games or toys.
Colorado Springs School District 11 and Harrison School District 2 are among the local sponsors, supplying food through their nutrition services programs and providing some of the locations. Host schools include D-2's Otero Elementary and Centennial Elementary, which start serving meals Tuesday, along with 29 sites within D-11.
Although Ray said the program is geared toward students who qualify for reduced-price or free meals during the school year, there are no income requirements for the summer food service program. And no registration is needed.
"The program is for any child," Ray said, "and the sites are safe, local environments, so parents can feel comfortable about having their children there."
The program has attracted more diners in recent years. Ray said 1.3 million meals were served statewide last year, which was an 11 percent increase over 2011. Since 2009, the number of meals served has increased by 52 percent. Also, there are 50 more sites this year than last.
Still, Hunger Free Colorado estimates that only 10.7 percent of children in the state who need food assistance during the summer use the program.