Millions of kids across the U.S. receive reduced and free school lunches (and breakfast) during the school year. In the 2012-2013 school year, 21.5 million children received benefit from this program.
Unfortunately, there are fewer options to help these children obtain a healthy meal during the summer, when school is out.
This is why the summer nutrition program was begun. Hopefully, through outreach efforts kids who are in need and hungry during the long, hot summer will be able to gain access to a healthy meal and snack.
Summer Lunch Programs
The summer lunch programs were designed to help replace the breakfast and lunch meals these low-income children up to age 18 won’t receive during summer recess.
Two federal USDA funded summer programs provide funding and support for meals and snack service – The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) Seamless Summer Option and the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP).
Sites are designated to provide the meals where there are at least 50% of the children in the geographic area eligible for free or reduced price school meals.
In many cities, school lunch sites offer enrichment opportunities as well as meals including recreation and safety which acts as child care for working parents.
Where is the program now and how much further do we need to go to meet the needs of more of these kids so no kid will be hungry?
Recent Report on Hunger
The Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), an organization that strives to support and encourage adequate policies that will improve domestic hunger, released its report on the state of summer school foodservice. The new data is from the summer of 2014.
Hopefully new data from this summer will be available soon to determine if even more kids have access to this program.
The report states that the summer meal program in 2014 had the largest gain of participation since 1993.
In July 2014 the Summer Nutrition Program served almost 3.2 million children. However, only one in six low-income children who depend on school meals for nutrition participated in the summer nutrition program.
More work still needs to be done to improve the reach of the program and accessibility to those kids who need it most.
Barriers to Participation
The goal of the summer food service program is to provide nutritious meals throughout the summer to kids who are eligible during the school year.
For the summer nutrition program to be successful:
- Facility sites and sponsors need to be involved and increased in number across the nation to connect with more kids; paperwork for organizations is often cumbersome and time consuming to be an approved site
- Sites need to have operational capability to prepare, store and transport meals not just snacks to their state’s program; adequate staffing and training staff is often an obstacle
- Sites must pass health, safety, and fire inspections but many find it difficult to fulfill requirements and pass inspections in a timely manner
- Sites need to remain in operation throughout the entire summer, not just for a few weeks
- Transportation for kids to get to and from the sites
- Need to reauthorize the federal Child Nutrition Programs in the fall of 2015, which could require schools to participate and broaden their reach, lower the threshold from 50% to 40% and allow three meals instead of two to be served so that it can act as full day care for working parents. It could also increase benefits through the Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card so that families can purchase more food during the summer to reduce food insecurity
- Awareness: only 40% of low-income families say they are aware of a summer feeding program or location
- Only one in four families who are eligible and know about the program participate. Many feel that site is not convenient or safe for kids. They feel local schools would be trusted and more convenient for their families.
Who Supports the Feeding Program?
The SFSP is made possible by participation of public and private schools, camps, local governments/parks and recreation divisions, Youth Sports Programs, YMCAs, Boys and Girls Clubs, faith based sites, Indian reservations, housing projects and private nonprofit organizations. They can operate one or more sites if desired and eligible.
Schools can use the NSLP to provide meals and snacks through schools or provide meals to other sites.
The USDA does fund these programs but they are operated by the states, usually through the state Department of Education.
Your Community and Summer Meals
Is your community providing meals for kids during the summer? Not sure?
Check your location at the USDA Food and Nutrition Service website or by calling the National Hunger Hotline at 1-866-3-HUNGRY (Spanish – 1-877-8-HAMBRE), Monday through Friday 8 AM to 8 PM ET.
Another easy way to see if your community has a summer meals program that you or someone you know who needs these services can access is through text message.
In partnership with USDA’s National Hunger Hotline and with the support of the Arby’s Foundation, No Kid Hungry provides a free texting service to help families find information about summer meal sites near them. Texting offers convenient, real-time access to local summer site information. Families in need text ‘Food’ to 877-877, and receive a text back with the address and program information for sites closest to them, or information about how to find food resources in their area.
The reality is that kids need healthy food every day. Statistics show that many families need assistance to provide healthy food throughout the summer.
According to No Kid Hungry,
Of families that participate in the free and reduced-price lunch program, more than half (54%) find it harder to make ends meet during the summer and 43% sometimes find themselves without enough food during the summer months; 73% of families report spending more on food during the summer months than during the school year.
Even if our own children do not need these services but we are concerned about the health of all children, we can advocate and support the efforts of a multitude of organizations who work to improve the accessibility and participation of children in need to receive summer meals.
“Summer is the hungriest time of the year for many kids.” Check out the No Kid Hungry website to see how you can help or to learn more.