Missouri ranks seventh in the country for food insecurity. That means one in five children don't have enough to eat.

In fact, right now, there's a brand new local program getting thousands of meals to where they're needed most.

When the Summer Food Program van rolls up, kids come running.

It's an oasis during a hot and hungry summer. Instead of making families seek out help, The Summer Food Program brings the meals to them.

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The Summer Food Program van
The Summer Food Program van

It's not just chicken nuggets, milk and sandwiches.

"We also have activity boxes with sidewalk chalk and jump ropes and soccer balls," said Susan Gregory, of Operation Food Search.

"And if I don't have ranch dressing they're not going to eat the carrot sticks! I've learned!" added Sister Connie Probst of St. Anthony's Food Pantry.

This first-of-its-kind program is run by Operation Food Search.

Whether the van's running the north city and county route, or its south city and county route, it doesn't take long for word to spread. And for a type of stress that is felt, but not necessarily seen, to vanish.

"We get free food and it’s right after school, so we're hungry,” said 11-year-old David Garcia.

"Sometimes we really don't have a lot of money to buy stuff, and I'm happy because they're doing this for free for children for everybody," said Miguel Aguilar, a young resident of south St. Louis.

The results are measurable.

"Research has shown kids can fall back so much from when they left school to when they begin because they didn't eat all summer properly and as the one mom said money gets tight when you have to feed kids three times or more a day,” said Sister Probst.

It's something this mother knows only too well.

"I remember this time when we went to Schnucks and my kids, they were asking for cereal and that was hard for me because I was short $2 and $2 for others is nothing but for me was a lot and they didn't eat cereal that day so for me this is a big, big, blessing,” said Betty Ameccua, a mother of five.

It's a blessing that began June 6th. In its first eight days, the van served almost 2,500 meals, and they make sure to pass out more than food and drink. They bring respect and commitment.

"It is an honor for us to lend a helping hand and move the needle toward ending childhood hunger,” said Susan Gregory.

They're breaking a cycle of stress that goes up when the temperatures rise.

“They go home and they stay quiet for a while and they watch TV and not hungry so that's wonderful,” said mother Florinda Cuiz.

Visit AliveAndWellSTL.com to learn more about reducing the impact of toxic stress and trauma on our health and well-being.