Summer is a particularly difficult time of year for our nation’s food banks. Donations always decline following the holiday season and reach a nadir during the summer months. The timing couldn’t be worse, either. Food banks also face their greatest need during the summertime. The reason? Families with children who had been receiving free or reduced-cost breakfast and/or lunch at school need to find a way to replace those meals during summer break. So they turn to their local food bank or pantry for assistance.
The National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program provide nutritional assistance to millions of low-income children every year. On a typical day, more than 21 million children participate in the National School Lunch Program, making it “the nation’s second-largest food and nutrition assistance program behind SNAP.” The School Breakfast Program serves more than 12 million children each day. These programs have been proven to reduce food insecurity, offer a number of health benefits, and improve academic performance.
The Summer Food Service Program was designed to ensure that the assistance low-income children receive at school isn’t interrupted when classes aren’t in session. Only 3.9 million children, 1 in 6, who receive free or reduced-cost meals at school, however, continue to do so during the summer months.
Feeding America’s food banks have programs designed to help close this meal gap, but the majority of food distributed during the summer comes from community food programs. Summer meal sites are sponsored by local organizations and are located typically located at schools, parks, rec centers, houses of worship, etc.
Too many children, however, are unable to access these summer meals sites. Nine million children live in communities that are “ineligible to operate” a site. Another obstacle is transportation to and from the locations. Young children with working parents can’t walk through high-traffic areas or dangerous neighborhoods alone. In rural communities, the distance may simply be too far to travel. The Hunger Free Summer For Kids Act, an amendment to the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act with bi-partisan support, would help to remove these barriers by providing children with Electronic Benefit cards and providing off-site consumption options. The bill, however, is part of Child Nutrition Reauthorization, which expired in September of 2015 and remains in limbo.
The infrastructure to help keep kids fed during the summer is there, but the success of these programs depends on us. When they aren’t operating as well as they could be, it places a greater burden on hunger relief organizations that are already stretched to their limits.
What can we do? In the short term, we need to do our part to keep the shelves at our local food banks and pantries stocked. Families who are facing hunger need help right now. Hosting a food drive is always important, but the impact is so much greater during the summer time. Move For Hunger can help you plan and a promote a food drive in your community that will support your neighbors in need.
The long term solution, however, is strengthening our federal nutrition programs. School meals, the Summer Food Service Program, and SNAP safeguard Americans from the dangers of hunger and poverty. We all need to advocate for and support these life-saving programs.
Hunger doesn’t take a vacation and neither can we. Don’t wait, take action today.
Can’t commit to a food drive this summer? A donation of $20 will cover the cost of Move For Hunger’s next food drive.
Find a list of summer meals sites in your area here.