Sodexo Government North America
While most kids look forward to a summer of sun and fun, for those who rely on school meals, summer can be a time of uncertainty with regard to if and where their next meal will come from. During the school year, 21 million kids receive free and reduced-priced breakfasts and lunches. For many of them it’s the most dependable source of food that they have throughout the week. During weekends, holidays and the summer when schools are closed, that reliable source of nutrition is no longer available to them. In fact, when school lets out for the summer, only 3.8 million actually participate in summer meal programs. That means 86% of eligible kids may not have access to regular meals during the summer months. Simply put, this is unacceptable.
The sad fact is that nearly one in five children in America lives in a household that struggles to put food on the table. That’s 16 million American children who are at risk of childhood hunger every day. Experiencing food insecurity can affect a child’s health, cognition, academic performance and emotional and social well-being. According to Share Our Strength, research conducted by Children’s HealthWatch and reported on by Feeding America [Child Food Insecurity: The Economic Impact on Our Nation] there are strong ties between nutrition and overall health and well-being:
- Food-insecure children are 90% more likely to have their overall health reported as “fair/poor” rather than “excellent/good” than kids from food-secure homes
- Food insecurity is linked to increased hospitalizations, developmental problems, headaches, stomachaches and even colds
- When children eat breakfast, they tend to consume more nutrients and experience lower obesity rates
- Hunger in childhood has been linked to significant health problems in adulthood
Several public and private efforts work to bridge the meal gap. Sodexo partners with the USDA to promote and implement its Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), which was established to ensure that children continue to receive nutritious meals when school is not in session. This year the SFSP plans to serve 200 million meals to children at approved sites, but this is just a drop in the bucket.
According to Share Our Strength the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act (CNR) is legislation that oversees critical child nutrition programs, including our school breakfast and lunch programs, summer meals, afterschool meal programs, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). The law is reauthorized by Congress every five years. It was last reauthorized as the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, and is up again for reauthorization this year. CNR presents a great opportunity to revisit and strengthen our policies that ease hunger and combat obesity as well as ensure the programs are working effectively and efficiently to get kids the healthy meals they need to thrive every day. While we are making progress No Kid Hungry underscores that there are still many obstacles to overcome:
- 80% of children from low-income backgrounds do not have access to organized programs that offer meals. Many families aren’t even aware that a program exists.
- Without school buses, there’s no transportation to get to the programs, especially in rural areas
- Smaller organizations have trouble fulfilling all the requirements for the federally funded program.
Clearly, more needs to be done to combat childhood hunger. Fortunately, there are many organizations that commit time and resources to address the issue, including Share Our Strength and Feeding America as well as numerous federal and state programs. Fighting hunger, and specifically childhood hunger, is central to the Sodexo Foundation’s mission. It’s the philanthropic arm of Sodexo where our day-to-day business ties directly to the health and well-being of children. As a board member of the Sodexo Foundation, I am proud of our work in helping to shoulder the responsibility for feeding children in need during the summer months. Sodexo is fortunate enough to have a truly engaged workforce that is actively involved in the fight against hunger. We have employees that volunteer both time and expertise in their local communities, at food banks, soup kitchens, partnering with our clients and vendors in food recovery programs and more.
One of our flagship programs is Feeding Our Future®, an 8 to 12 week summer feeding program that Sodexo started back in 1997. It began relatively small, with programs in just 3 cities, but it now serves 24 locations across the country, with Phoenix being the latest addition. Sodexo partners with community organizations like the Boys and Girls Clubs, YMCAs, local hunger relief organizations as well as clients and suppliers to provide meals to children who are out of school for the summer. Feeding Our Future owes its success to the longstanding partnerships between Sodexo, our clients and vendor partners and local hunger-relief organizations. Last summer, we served our four-millionth meal with partners across the country.
A look at best practices shows that the most effective programs for fighting hunger are built on collaboration and partnerships. I’d like to personally encourage businesses as well as individuals to find a way to fight hunger wherever they work and live. Together, we can help make this a summer all kids can enjoy.
Dave Scanlan is President of Sodexo Government Services and serves on the Board of Sodexo Foundation. Providing more than $25 million in grants to fight hunger to date, Sodexo Foundation supports programs like Feeding Our Future, which provides free summer meals to children in 24 cities.