Summer parks program

About 50 children enjoy a hot lunch from the summer parks program in 2010. Burbank has cut the program this summer. (Raul Roa / Staff Photographer / June 18, 2010)

Local families dependent on free and reduced-price school meals could find it harder to keep their children fed this summer.

The city of Burbank will not be offering its summer parks program and complimentary free meals due to budget cuts, officials said. In the past, the program has operated at four sites, including McKinley and Miller elementary schools and Lundigan and Maxam parks, serving more than 8,500 meals.

Roughly one-third of Burbank Unified's 16,670 students qualify for free and reduced-price meals, which are subsidized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Technically, nutritional support continues during summer school, but for the third consecutive year, the district will offer a heavily scaled-back program due to budget constraints.

That could leave many low-income students and their families scrambling for alternatives.

In Los Angeles County, just one in six students who receives free or reduced-price meals during the academic year does so during summer break, according to California Food Policy Advocates, a public policy organization dedicated to food accessibility.

“Summer nutrition has suffered because summer enrichment and learning opportunities have shrunk,” senior advocate Matthew Sharp said. “That is the headline. The summer meals may be an indicator of reduced opportunities for families that have significant impact, certainly from a health standpoint.”

Burbank school officials and social service agency representatives say they are trying to fill in where the city has left off. Burbank Unified will provide meals at McKinley Elementary School from June 11 to June 28 and July 16 to July 26, Monday through Thursday only. Service will run from 10:30 to 11 a.m.

All children under 18 are eligible, but must be accompanied by an adult.

“Responsibility to children doesn't end when school lets out,” district officials said in a statement. “Children who get enough to eat and have safe activities to participate in during the summer are less likely to get into trouble.”

Shanna Warren, executive director of the Burbank Boys & Girls Club, said she and her colleagues expect a crowd at their free summer drop-in program at Lundigan Park. Students are given a morning and afternoon snack.

While families are asked to provide a sack lunch, those who are unable to do so will be accommodated, Warren said.

“Last year, we served 400 students,” Warren said. “This year, because there are fewer programs, we think it will be well over 500.”

Barbara Howell, executive director of Burbank Temporary Aid Center, said reductions in federal and state funding have hit social service agencies hard.

“We are trying to keep up with the need,” Howell said. “We would encourage families, if they are struggling and haven't already contacted us, to definitely seek us out.”