By State Representative, Leon D. Young
Just in case you haven’t notice, most kids are now jumping for joy. After all, it’s summertime and no more school–at least for a while. But, there is also another reality to consider during this much anticipated summer break: When the school year ends, many children and teens who rely on USDA school meals are at a higher risk of going hungry during the summer when school is not in session.
Here are some important things to know about summer hunger in the United States:
• Summer is a time of need. For some kids, summer is a time of joy and freedom. For millions of kids who rely on school for regular meals, however, summer can be a time of hunger and anxiety. Research shows that family grocery costs rise to more than $300 a month when school is out, and school meals disappear, putting a strain on already-tight budgets.
• Summer hunger has long-term consequences. A lack of reliable nutrition during the summer months takes a major toll on children. Kids who struggle with hunger are more likely to experience “summer slide”, forgetting what they learned and starting the next school year months behind their more affluent peers. Kids who struggle with hunger are more likely to experience long-term health consequences, like iron deficiency, anemia, asthma, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
• Summer meals are a lifeline for hungry kids. The national summer meals program was created 40 years ago to help students get enough nutrition when school is out of session. Summer meals programs are funded by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA); administered by state agencies, such as state departments of education; and run by public and private organizations, including schools, community centers and faith-based organizations.
• The summer meals program doesn’t reach many kids who need it. When the program works well, it’s a lifeline. Today, however, the program just doesn’t reach most of kids in need; of the 22 million kids who receive a free or reduced-price school lunch, only 4 million are getting a summer meal. Barriers like transportation, unsafe streets, distance and extreme weather stop millions of kids from accessing the program and getting the food they need.
• Closer to home, kids in our community are being fed through the Summer Meals program, administered by Milwaukee’s Hunger Task Force. Youth 18 and under can receive meals this summer at supervised locations like schools, parks and community centers throughout Milwaukee. Dial 2- 1-1 or visit impactinc.org for meal times and locations closest to your zip code, or text FOOD or COMIDA to 877877.
In this land of plenty, no one deserves or should go to bed hungry. After all, aren’t we our brother’s, sister’s and children’s keeper? In closing, here are a few things you can do to help kids facing hunger this summer:
• Organize a community food drive. Join forces with your church, local supermarket or other community organization to collect donated food.
• Buy an extra bag of food. When you’re doing your weekly grocery shopping, pick up a few extra nonperishable items and bag separately. Then a few times throughout the summer, drop off your collection at your local food bank.
• Volunteer! There’s nothing more rewarding than spending an afternoon making a difference for your own community. There are tons of volunteer opportunities—including kid-friendly activities—at your local food bank and pantries.