While most kids can look forward to a carefree summer of sun and fun, for too many children the end of the school year means they are hungry. During the academic year, 22 million kids receive free and reduced-priced breakfasts and lunches through their schools, relying on them as their primary source of nutrition.
It’s a shocking reality that, in the wealthiest country in the world, for many kids, their school is 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. It becomes harder for parents to make ends meet during the summer months, when grocery expenses alone can increase by more $300 per month. And when school lets out for the summer, only 3.8 million kids participate in summer meal programs. That means 86% of those eligible may not have regular access to nutritious meals during the summer months. By any measure, 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 15 million American children who are at risk of childhood hunger every day. Experiencing food insecurity can undermine a child’s health, affecting 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 Meal Programs, which was established to ensure that children continue to receive nutritious meals when school is not in session. This year the USDA plans to serve 200 million meals to children at approved sites, but this is just a drop in the bucket.
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.
Adding insult to injury where childhood hunger is concerned, food production devours up 10 percent of the total U.S. energy budget, occupies 50 percent of U.S. land, and guzzles 80 percent of all freshwater consumed in the country. Yet, a shameful 40 percent of that food goes uneaten. That’s $165 Billion in food waste each year. (Source: Natural Resources Defense Council). 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 Stop Hunger Foundation mission. It’s the philanthropic arm of Sodexo where our day-to-day business ties directly to the health and well-being of children. 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 much more. They also generously support the work of the Foundation financially through payroll deduction.
One of our flagship programs is Feeding Our Future®, an 8 to 12 week summer feeding program that Sodexo started back in 1997 and has served 4.5 million meals. It began relatively small, with programs in just 3 cities, but it now serves 23 locations across the country and 9 sites in Canada, with New Orleans 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.
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 individuals, businesses and communities to find a way to fight hunger wherever they live, work and play. Together, we can do more to improve quality of life for children in need.
Steve Cox leads Public Relations for Sodexo North America with $9B in annual revenue, 133,000 employees, 9,000 operating sites and 15 million consumers served daily.