BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) — The new year is when the Louisiana Department of Education and Department of Agriculture and Forestry (DOAF) start to prepare for the summertime. Their mission is to make sure no child goes hungry.

“Without this program, many children will go hungry, and that’s the bottom line,” said Commissioner of the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry Mike Strain.

Strain said now is the time to buckle down and line up sponsors for their 2022 Summer Nutrition Program.

“It’s so important to start early so we don’t have a gap and a period of time, weeks to a month or more, that these children don’t have access to lunch,” said Strain.

Sponsors are necessary to help with the cost of obtaining, preparing, and serving food.

“The school systems play a part and if the schools choose not to do it, then other government entities in the parish can do it. If they choose not to do it, then the private nonprofits can do it,” he explained.

The Louisiana Department of Education said in a news release:

Sponsors must be able to provide a capable staff, managerial skills, and food service capabilities. A sponsor may provide its own meals, purchase meals through an agreement with an area school, or contract for meals with a food vendor.”

Nearly 500,000 students across the state rely on daily meals, however, when school is out, the meals are no longer available. Strain’s department manages the food storage and distribution.

“Working with the USDA, the Department of Education, and the school entities, we all work together to make this program work,” he stated.

The need is even higher as COVID-19 and inflation plagues the nation.

“We have the highest inflation now than 40 years across the board. We believe it’s going to put a lot of stress on family budgets,” he said.

Students 18 years and younger qualify for the meals. Applications are being accepted until April 15 for those who would like to participate in the 2022 Summer Food Service Program.