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Summer food program helps needy LI kids

Randi Shubin Dresner, president and chief executive of

Randi Shubin Dresner, president and chief executive of Island Harvest, shows the goods in the charity's Uniondale warehouse. (Aug. 20, 2010) Credit: Ed Betz

Long Island children who rely on free and reduced-price public school lunches can still count on a midday meal under a federal summer nutrition program that started this week.

The Summer Food Service Program, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, will provide free lunch to low-income children younger than 18 at 26 locations in Nassau and Suffolk counties.

"Now that school has ended for the summer, many children will lose their one chance to have a balanced meal during the day," said Randi Shubin Dresner, president and chief executive of Island Harvest, a nonprofit that is managing the program locally.

"Proper nutrition is essential to the growth and development of children, and many of them, especially those in the low-income spectrum, don't always have access to good, wholesome food," she said. "The Summer Food Service Program helps bridge that gap."

There are an estimated 88,000 children in both counties who rely on the program during the school year, according to state figures. Island Harvest anticipates serving 1,400 Long Island children during the summer.

The federal summer program, which annually provides meals to 2.2 million children nationwide, was launched in 1968 to curb childhood hunger. According to federal guidelines, centers must be in neighborhoods where at least half of the children are from families whose incomes do not exceed 185 percent of the federal poverty line. That is $3,554 a month for a family of four.

About 5 percent of Nassau residents and 5.7 percent in Suffolk, live in poverty, according to U.S. census figures.

"Hunger has become a year-round issue on Long Island and even though food may be plentiful for most of us during the summer, for many Long Islanders, including children, finding enough nutritious food is a daily struggle," Dresner said.

Parents may call Island Harvest at 516-294-8528, ext. 126, with questions about eligibility and center locations.

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