School is out for the summer in many cities across the U.S. For some that means summer picnics, family BBQs, and family vacations. But for others, summer break is a time of struggle. It's a time when many families must scramble to find ways to feed their kids until they can eat the school-provided meals again in the fall.
According to the USDA, children are most likely to go hungry during the hot summer months. Food banks may struggle to keep their shelves stocked in the winter, but it is in the summer months that they face their greatest challenge - making sure that millions of children get regular, healthy meals when they aren’t in school.
USDA records show that about 21.4 million children receive free or reduced-price lunches at school in the U.S. Many of these kids are also eligible to receive breakfast, snacks, dinner and even backpacks filled with food to cover meals on the weekends. But all of that goes away when school is not in session for the summer. There are government programs to provide meals to children in the summer, but participation is low. Last summer only about 3 million kids utilized the federal Summer Food Service Program. But experts say the low numbers aren't indicative of a lack of need.
More likely, kids can't get to the areas where food is distributed when school buses aren’t running. Also, many parents aren't aware that federal programs exist for feeding kids in the summer. And the government only funds summer meals for kids in high-need areas where at least half of the kids were receiving free or reduced-price lunches during the school year.
Yesterday, I wrote about how malnutrition can stunt the mental and physical growth of children. It's heartbreaking to hear about hungry children anywhere in the world. But it's downright obscene to hear about them in the same country where millions of other children will spend their summer guzzling soda and overeating snack food in front of the television.
If you have the means to bring a few extra canned goods to your local food pantry this summer, it's likely that they will need it. I know that I'll be calling my local ceter to see how I can help.