This post was written by Signe Anderson and Kate Sims of the Food Research and Action Center.
Each year, when school comes to a close, millions of low-income children lose access to the school meals they rely on during the academic year.
However, last summer marked the first significant increase in the number of low-income students participating in summer meal programs in a decade. A new report, Hunger Doesn’t Take a Vacation: Summer Nutrition Status Report 2014, released by the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) shows summer meal participation nationwide reached nearly three million students on an average day in July of 2013. This is up 161,000 children, or 5.7 percent from 2012.
This national increase in children eating summer meals provides welcome momentum for summer nutrition programs, as well as a stronger safety net for struggling families. Providing adequate nutrition during the summer, along with structured activities often held in conjunction with the meals served helps prevent learning loss and allows students to stay healthy and active so they return to school in the fall ready to learn.
Summer is about to begin, but there’s still a lot that can be done to build on the progress to date, and opportunities to accelerate it even more. This week – June 2 to 8 – marks the USDA’s Summer Meals Awareness Week, which aims to raise the visibility of the program nationwide. USDA continues to promote the program through its “Summer Food Rocks” campaign, including the launch of a free web-based application that features a site locator and search tool that works on devices such as iPads, iPhones, Blackberrys and Androids.
Everyone can help increase awareness and participation in summer meals. Below is information on what elected officials, school districts and parks departments can do to promote and sponsor summer meals in their communities.
Elected officials can speak up about summer nutrition programs and get the word out to their constituents by posting information about summer meals on their websites or in their newsletters. They can visit summer meal sites in their districts and work with partners to increase the number of sites where children can go for summer meals.
School districts can sponsor summer meal sites at their schools throughout the summer, open these sites to the surrounding communities, work with community partners to ensure there are enough sites or even contract with local sponsors to vend meals. School districts can also inform parents about summer nutrition programs and where nearby sites are located.
Local parks departments can become sponsors of the programs and set up their meal sites at their parks and local community centers. Parks are great places for summer meal sites because in addition to providing space they provide outdoor space for physical activities and a variety of enrichment programs.
About the Authors: Signe Anderson is a Senior Child Nutrition Policy Analyst and Kate Sims is a Child Nutrition Policy Analyst, both at the Food Research and Action Center.