For most kids, the last day of school is filled with a buzz of talk of summer plans, staring longingly at the sunshine outside, knowing that 3 months of freedom is shortly in their grasp. The final bell of the year sounds and big smiles are plastered across their faces. There may not be paper throwing throughout the halls like in the movies, but there is certainly the sweet scent of summertime in the air.
For most kids, summer holds the promise of beach days, pool parties, and endless buffets of burgers, hotdogs, fresh fruits, and ice cream! Unfortunately, these stereotypical summer moments are not something that every kid will get to experience. For children from food insecure households, this is just a wishful fantasy.
A few decades ago, two programs were put in place in the U.S. to help food insecure children. Recognizing how important nutrition is to a child’s well-being, development, and school performance, the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program were formed to offer free or reduced meals to students in households that fall below the poverty line. Hooray for filling hungry tummies!
However, in most areas school is not a yearlong endeavor. So, while kids get meals at school, their resources when school is not in session are less certain.
An organization that is close to our hearts, No Kid Hungry reports that 17.9% of the children in the U.S. live in households that experience limited or uncertain access to food, and or do not have access to nutritious or safe food. Yikes…
The article then drops an even scarier statistic that 5 in 6 children who utilize the National School Lunch Program or the School Breakfast Program do not have a way to access free meals in the summer. But not to worry, along comes the Summer Food Service Program, which is pretty similar to its lunch and breakfast counterparts.
This program provides meals to qualifying students during summer at various distribution sites throughout the country. Sounds pretty great, but how accessible are these sites? Certainly not accessible enough if 5 in 6 kids are still hungry in the summer.
The program’s website gives a solid overview in its frequently asked questions page, but the answer to one question threw us for a loop. Question 10 asks what to do if there are no sites in the area. The answer is simply a suggestion on how to get one close to you and who to talk to in your community to help fill the void. While lobbying for more sites in the future is great, it leaves little solution for those who need food now.
Blessings in a Backpack, an organization that works to feed kids on the weekends and summers, said it pretty well: Hunger Doesn’t Take the Summer Off.
The founders recognized that kids tummies were rumbling on the weekends and summers. Volunteers come together to pack backpacks full of meals for these kids in need. The organization boasts that for just $100, they can feed a child every weekend for a typical 38-week school year.
The organization lists some pretty humbling statistics. They found that when kids are not struggling with hunger pangs throughout the day, 60% have better school attendance, 60% find themselves in trouble less often, and 59% say that it is easy for them to learn during class - which is what school is all about after all.
So, while the bell ringing for summer means pool parties and backyard barbecues, for others, it just means a whole lot more uncertainty about where their next meal will come from. The national programs are undeniably great, filling kids’ bellies every day, but they can only extend so far. At FBNW, we are doing our part to help reach these children who cannot easily access the distribution centers. We hold our Food Drops in the neighborhoods with the most need, and we hope to one day be distributing bags of groceries weekly across the U.S. with your help!