NORTH LAS VEGAS, Nev. -- Nearly six in 10 children in Clark County now rely on the free and discounted meals they receive at school to help them through the day.
In recent years, the number of children needing the free meals has been growing and the big challenge continues to be how to feed the kids once school lets out during the summer.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Nevada is now 1 of 6 states where it sees the biggest disparity in the quantity and quality of meals students get during the school year compared to those during the summer.
Federal officials made a special trip to the Las Vegas valley this week to see exactly what is happening. At McCall Elementary School in North Las Vegas, students fill the cafeteria every morning for breakfast. For many of the kids, it could be the only full meal they'll eat all day.
"If your focus is that you are hungry, you are not going to learn," said school principal Ana De Beauvernet.
She says 96 percent of her students are on the free and reduced breakfast and lunch program, but over the summer break, many of the children will go without the extra food because families must choose between paying for rent or food.
"It's heartbreaking sometimes," she said.
Audrey Rowe with the USDA is in southern Nevada to look at ways to expand summer feeding sites for local students. She says, in the last year, only 6 percent of children in Clark County who were eligible for free and reduced meals during the summer, actually got them.
"It really is the question of where is the site and is it really accessible to the child if they can't get to school?" Rowe said.
CCSD had around 90 school summer feeding sites last year that served more than 200,000 meals. In some cases, parents are unaware they can apply to the program any time during the year. The need now is for more local groups from churches, to gyms, to community centers to step up and provide places for kids to eat and feel full when they can't get enough food at home.
"A child in the U.S. should not go to bed wondering if they will have a meal the next day. In the summertime, that is the reality for many children and we need to address that reality," Rowe said.
The USDA is encouraging Nevada to increase funding by 10 percent this year to help with the summer food service.
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