These hot summer days inevitably make me nostalgic for my childhood in Pittsburgh. For me, like most kids, summer meant lazy days playing in the sprinkler and waiting for the magic moment when my parents would suggest we go out for ice cream. But for kids like Paul, summer prompts a very different memory.
The No Kid Hungry team met Paul at high school just outside of Washington, DC. His mom lost her job last year, and the family relied on school meals to feed him and his brother during the school year. Once the school closed for the summer, there was no place within walking distance for the two boys to get similar help. Paul told us how last summer he and his brother would cope with those pangs of hunger by playing quiet games inside. Going out in the heat was too draining. They just didn’t have the energy. A powerful reminder that food fuels summer fun and without that fuel kids miss out on making their own summer memories.
Paul’s Mom found a new job at a hospital in Maryland, and this summer will be very different for their family, but that’s not the case for other kids across America. No Kid Hungry helps implement effective approaches to summer meals ensuring that our nation’s most vulnerable children have the food they need when school is out. When we launched No Kid Hungry, summer feeding numbers were abysmal. But within four years, nine of the top 10 states posting increases in summer feeding had one thing in common – the active presence of our campaign. In places like New York City, through partnerships with government agencies and investments in infrastructure like mobile meals trucks, we were able to help serve over 8 million meals to children in a single summer. These achievements are tremendous, but we can’t end summer hunger unless the summer meals program is updated to be more effective and efficient.
National summer meals programs, including the United States Department of Agriculture’s Summer Food Service Program, were created forty years ago to help students get nourishment when school is out of session. Under the current program, federally reimbursed meals are available to kids at sites around the country, like schools, faith-based programs and community centers. When this program works, it’s a lifeline for kids in need. Unfortunately, this program doesn’t work effectively throughout much of our country; today it’s only helping a fraction of kids who need it. About 5 out of 6 eligible children are missing out on summer meals – that adds up to millions of kids facing summer hunger.
There are many barriers blocking these kids from the meals they need. In many cases, parents simply don’t know this resource exists. Bureaucracy and red tape make it tough for many sites to open. The current law requires kids to get themselves to sites at a specific time and eat their meal while on the premises. As you can imagine, transportation then becomes a massive challenge for many kids, since sites can be miles away from where they live – think of kids like Paul and his brother, no summer meals site in walking distance meant sitting quietly inside trying to forget they were hungry.
This year, Congress has the opportunity to update the laws that govern the summer meals programs through the Child Nutrition Reauthorization process. By building more flexibility into the summer meals program and helping it to run more effectively and efficiently in our cities, suburbs and rural communities, we can make sure our youngest generation gets the basic nourishment they need.
About Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign
No child should go hungry in America, but 1 in 5 kids will face hunger this year. Using proven, practical solutions, No Kid Hungry is ending childhood hunger today by ensuring that kids start the day with a nutritious breakfast, have healthy meals during the summer months, and families learn the skills they need to shop and cook on a budget. When we all work together, we can make sure kids get the healthy food they need. No Kid Hungry is a campaign of national anti-hunger organization Share Our Strength. Join us in fighting summer hunger at NoKidHungry.org/summer.
Billy Shore is Founder and CEO of Share Our Strength.