For some of the nation’s students, when school is in session, it not only means getting an education, but a nutritious meal.
In 1946, President Truman signed the National School Lunch Act, which funded states to provide school lunches to children in need, and today, over 30 million children still benefit, as a part of the National School Lunch Program (NSLP).
Out of those 30 million children who are receiving a free or reduced-price lunch during the school year, 70 percent (or roughly 21 million), come from low-income families.
No Kid Hungry, a nonprofit working to solve problems of hunger and poverty in the United States and around the world, has coined the term that “summer is the hungriest time of the year,” and for good reason. While the same federally-funded programs that provide students with meals during the school year are also available during the summer, less than 15 percent of the children who qualify are receiving these meals during the summer months.
Studies show that come September, summer hunger exacerbates learning and what is known as “the summer slide,” as well as the long-term health consequences of food insecurity, like obesity, asthma, Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
What’s happening here?
If only a handful of children in need are accessing these kinds of programs, where is the disconnect?
According to No Kid Hungry, hours of operation and transportation to these summer programs can sometimes be an issue for families, but ultimately it all comes down to public awareness.
“There’s an awareness gap,” says Derrick Lambert, a program manager who leads the summer meals strategy within No Kid Hungry’s Center for Best Practices.
When surveyed, only about 40 percent of low-income families were aware that these types of programs existed, and after a follow-up survey, 70 percent of families said they would have participated sooner if they had known about them.
“Summer meals only reach a fraction of the children who need them and one of the biggest barriers is getting the word out. Many families simply do not know these meals are available or they have trouble finding information about sites.”
A problem with a solution
Lambert goes on to say that, “we believe summer hunger is a problem with a solution.”
“These programs exist; it’s about ensuring that children have access to these critical nutrition programs.”
In 2013, No Kid Hungry developed a program that brings summer meal site information to your fingertips. By texting ‘FOOD’ to 877-877 (Spanish speakers can also text ‘COMIDA’ to 877-877), users receive a message back prompting them to enter an address (either a home address or a location of their choosing). Once the user replies, the service will provide information about nearby meal sites and information about to access sites if none are located within the vicinity.
How to help
“This service, like summer meals, is only helpful to children and families if they know about it,” says Lambert.
On top of nutritious meals, meal sites often include activities enrichment. “Summer meal sites do more than just feed children; a lot of times children will go to read, play sports or make art in fun and safe environments,” shares Lambert.
Since the start of No Kid Hungry’s campaign in 2010, the organization has served more than 750 million meals and the number of children facing hunger has dropped from 16 million to around 13 million.
To learn more, visit www.nokidhungry.org.
You can also locat registered, licensed free meal providers using a map provided by the USDA: https://fnssnaphal-gis.esriemcs.com/summerfoodrocks/.
Aubree Kammler is a public information specialist for the Capital Region BOCES Communications service in Albany, NY.