School’s Out for Summer, But Hunger Never Takes a Vacation
America’s schools aren’t just places for kids to learn—they’re also major hunger-relief providers. In 2012, the National School Lunch Program provided 31 million children each school day with a nutritious mid-day meal, giving them the fuel they need to succeed in their studies. Millions of children also receive breakfast and snacks at their schools. Our region is no exception, as 42% of children in Philabundance’s Pennsylvania and New Jersey service areas receive free or reduced price meals during the school day. In the midst of an epidemic of child hunger—according to Feeding America, 1 in 5 American children suffered from food insecurity in 2012—school meals are a crucial resource.
But what happens when school is out for the summer? Children may put aside their
textbooks for the season, but hunger doesn’t take a vacation. When school is not in session, children suddenly lose out on an important source of nutrition, and the consequences of even a few months of missed meals can be severe. According to Drexel University’s Center for Hunger-Free Communities, children experiencing food insecurity are more likely to experience poor overall health, developmental delays, and behavior and emotional problems. Furthermore, there is evidence that children gain weight at an accelerated rate during the summer when they lose access to school meals.
One solution to this problem is the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). The Summer Food Service Program provides congregate meals to low-income children who would normally receive meals during the school year. Additionally, many summer meals are served in coordination with recreation programs, providing a safe place for children to spend their free time during the summer.
Unfortunately, not nearly enough children are participating in SFSP or other summer meal programs. In both Pennsylvania and New Jersey, only 1 in 6 children eligible for meals received them during the summer of 2013. That’s why advocacy and awareness regarding summer meals is crucial to eliminating child hunger. One current response to this issue is the Stop Child Summer Hunger Act of 2014. If this bill was put into effect, families who have children eligible for free and reduced-price school meals would receive an electronic benefit (EBT) card to purchase food to replace the meals that the children would otherwise be receiving at school. Philabundance urges you to contact your Senators and Congressional Representatives to voice your support for the Stop Child Summer Hunger, and to advocate for summer meals in general. If you know a child in need of summer meals, please check out some of the resources that exist to locate summer meal sites in the Delaware Valley.
Philabundance strives to work together with lawmakers to ensure crucial conversations about food insecurity are held to ensure that our neighbors in need have access to meals. By participating in these conversations and contacting your community leaders, you are helping us raise awareness and taking action to fight hunger.