Bryan County may have to pick up the financial slack for South Bryan children who need the federally funded summer-lunch program because of guidelines that limit where those children can be fed.
County commissioners agreed at Tuesday’s meeting in Richmond Hill to cover the cost if Bryan County Family Connection Director Wendy Sims can’t find a place to feed children who qualify for the program — paid for up front by the county, which in turn is reimbursed at $3.84 per lunch.
She estimated it could wind up costing the county about $2,500 for lunches for the estimated 150 children who won’t be funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture if a solution can’t be found.
“Is that per kid, or for the whole thing, the whole summer,” asked Commissioner Noah Covington, who raised the issue of covering the shortfall if USDA guidelines in South Bryan can’t be met.
Sims said the $2,500 cost would be the total for the summer if a location can’t be found in South Bryan.
It’s the second time in recent memory the county has stepped in to help cover shortfalls in funding for such programs. In 2014, the county stepped in to help pay for senior meals after a state-funding shortfall of nearly $11,000.
“We wouldn’t let seniors go hungry; we’re not going to let kids go hungry, either,” Bryan County Commission Chairman Jimmy Burnsed said.
The issue was raised when Sims told commissioners she was having problems finding sites in South Bryan at which to feed the kids. In all, the program fed 850 children at 19 sites last year. Eight hundred of those children were in North Bryan.
“We can feed whoever we want, whenever we want, wherever we want in North Bryan,” she told them. “But South Bryan is completely different because of free and reduced lunch numbers at the schools.”
Those numbers reflect demographics between the two ends of Bryan County. In North Bryan, between 50 percent and 60 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced-cost lunches.
But the number of students eligible for those lunches is closer to 30 percent for schools in South Bryan, Sims said.
That doesn’t fit within USDA guidelines, which also apparently use census blocks to determine poverty areas where sites can be set up.
Sims said one location in South Bryan where the program has traditionally fed kids for years now no longer qualifies because it no longer is considered a poverty area. She added that Ashton and Plantation apartments also no longer qualify because of the USDA.
“We know we have children down here in poverty,” she said.
“We just can’t figure out how to feed them. But we’re still trying. We’ll feed them.”
Though the USDA funds the program, it’s run by the state and has become increasingly difficult to administer, Sims said. Last year, the county wasn’t reimbursed for roughly $7,000 in lunches due to changes at the state level.
The county has budgeted $83,000 for the program in 2015 and still hopes to get all of it back despite the difficulties. Sims said she’s working with school officials and churches in South Bryan to try to identify all the children who need the program and where they live in order to find a suitable location for a feeding site.