The Importance of Summer Meals
It is a sad paradox that in summer, the season of bounty, is the hungriest time of year for American children. School meals provide more than 20 million American children with an affordable, nutritious meals throughout the school year through the National School Lunch Program. But when school isn’t in session, millions of low-income children are cut off from this valuable program. The USDA hosts a summer meals program, where all children and teens under 18 years old are eligible for a free meal, yet less than 3 million receive meals through this program.
That means nearly 5 out of 6 children who may need these meals aren’t accessing them. This not only puts a large burden on low-income families, but means that every summer millions of American children increase their risk for both hunger and obesity.
There are a number of barriers that explain why program participation is drastically lower in the summer. For one, less locations serve meals, making accessibility an issue for many families. You can find what locations serve summer meals near you here. Another major barrier is a lack of awareness about the program. You can help raise awareness in your community using these resources, available in both English and Spanish. And then there are a variety of bureaucratic obstacles making serving meals more difficult than necessary.
In additions to the USDA’s Summer Food Service Program, Feeding America provides meal programs to support child nutrition throughout the summer through the Backpack Program, Kids Cafe, and community meals program. Locate your local food bank and contact them to see if they offer any special support programs throughout the summer.
But there’s even more you can do to ensure children across America don’t unnecessarily suffer from hunger over summer break. The Child Nutrition Reauthorization, the law that governs most child nutrition programs from WIC to school lunch is reauthorized every five years, and expires in September 2015. That means that now is the time to encourage your representatives to not only renew, but to expand and break down the barriers of access to, the summer meal program. As No Kid Hungry urges, "There are more effective and efficient ways to connect kids to the nutrition they need, but communities lack the flexibility to implement them. Many states and communities facing specific barriers may need options beyond congregate feeding to ensure kids have access to summer meals they need. Some of these other options could include: home-delivered meals (similar to what Meals on Wheels does for seniors), allowing children to leave a site with a meal, or providing a grocery benefit to purchase food where summer meals programming is not operating.”