There are some foods that automatically bring summer to mind: sweet corn on the cob, grinning slices of watermelon, fat blueberries. Some children, though, do not anticipate the delicious produce that summertime brings; instead, they worry about having enough food to eat once the school year ends and the cafeteria that provides them with meals is closed for more than two months.
That’s where the Summer Nutrition Programs come in. A safety net for struggling families, the programs provide millions of low-income children with the meals they need to stay healthy and grow…and enjoy the summer. Last year, we saw the biggest boost in a decade in the number of low-income students who received meals through the summer meal programs. A new report released by the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) finds that summer meal participation nationally reached nearly three million students on an average day in July of 2013, up 161,000 children or 5.7% from 2012.
This week marks USDA’s Summer Food Awareness Week, which aims to raise the visibility of the programs nationwide, and is part of the USDA “Summer Food Rocks” campaign that features an online site locator and search tool. The National Hunger Hotline helps connect families to local resources that provide food for children. That number is 1-866-3HUNGRY (1-866-348-6479) and the number for information in Spanish is 1-877-8HAMBRE (1-877-842-6273).
We must all work together to make sure that families know about the Summer Nutrition Programs and where their children can go for summer meals. Providing adequate nutrition during the summer, along with structured activities often held in conjunction with the meals, helps prevent learning loss and allows students to stay healthy and active so they return to school in the fall ready to learn.
Everyone has a role to play:
- Elected Officials. When you’re out in the community, speak up about this program and include information on your website and in newsletters. Stop by a summer meal site and have lunch with some of your youngest constituents. Even better—work with partners to increase the number of sites where children can go for summer meals.
- Schools. Sponsor a summer meal site! By opening your school to the community for the summer meal programs, you can help ensure that there are enough sites in places with plenty of kids. Also, let parents at your school know about the Summer Nutrition Programs and where they can find sites nearby that will provide food for their children.
- Parks. Everyone enjoys summer in the park! Parks and community centers are ideal summer meal sites because they have outdoor space for physical activities and a variety of enrichment programs. Local parks departments can become sponsors of the programs.
No child should spend the summer hungry. Check out the summer food programs at the USDA website and see what you can do to help connect children to the meals they need!