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Hunger knows no season

The figures cited above underscore how for many children, the lazy, hazy days of summer are marked by gnawing pangs of hunger.

During the school year, low-income children can count on a federal program that provides free and reduced-price breakfast and lunch in the public schools. Come summer, schools close and the food goes away.

Stopgap measures exist. Food banks report increased demand for assistance in the summer months. In the past year, 1.2 million state residents regularly visited food banks, 40 percent of them kids. But, food banks suffer a marked decline in donations during the summer.

Urban areas often do the best in picking up the slack. Seattle operates the federally funded Summer Sack Lunch program at more than 120 supervised playgrounds, summer camps and child-care programs, youth-employment projects and low-income-housing sites. Last summer, the program served 6,500 lunches and 2,500 breakfasts daily.

But as with most federal initiatives, some local subsidy is required and this makes the entire program vulnerable to local budgets. A 100-year-old summer food program that operated in 25 to 30 Spokane parks was recently eliminated to balance the city budget.

Washington's summer meals offerings lag behind the nation, according to the Food Research and Action Center's 2006 summer food report titled "Hunger Doesn't Take a Vacation." Once ranked in the top five for states having the highest number of hungry children, Washington now ranks at No. 12, a still unacceptable position.

A recent federal rule change may help. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which funds summer food programs, streamlined the administrative side of the program, hoping less paperwork would encourage rural areas and small towns to sign up for the program.

In addition, a state law requires summer schools with 50 percent of their enrollment eligible for free and reduced-price meals to offer a daily meal.

Besides these things, there is a task for each of us. A burst of giving in August will help food banks supply needy families with food. Hunger knows no season. We must all pitch in.