June 5, 2014

More than 21 million children currently receive free or reduced-price meals through the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs, yet most of those children will lose access to those meals as public schools close for the summer months.

This abrupt loss of up to ten meals per child per week creates a tremendous burden on millions of low-income Americans who are already struggling to provide adequate food and necessities for their families.

Many Feeding America food banks are working to make up for these missing meals by offering nutritious meals and snacks programs that vary around the country to best serve the needs of individual communities. Many of these efforts are site based and reimbursed through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). Other programs utilize innovative models to get food to children during the summer months. The New Hampshire Food Bank, for example, brings bags of"child-friendly" groceries to the homes of children living in very sparsely populated areas. The bags include items such as cereal bars, peanut butter and jelly, microwaveable soups and apple sauce.

Last year 131 Feeding America food banks helped distribute nearly 8 million meals to children at 4,200 sites. All meals and snacks were provided to children free of charge.

"We are especially grateful to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack for his commitment to increasing the number of eligible children reached by SFSP. The USDA provided nearly $428 million in funding in 2013, which helped feed more than 3.5 million children," said Bob Aiken, CEO of Feeding America."We hope to see participation increased by at least ten percent this year. We encourage families who may be eligible for these programs to contact their local food bank to find out what services are available in their area."

"Every summer we see a sharp uptick in need, as more families come more often to the food pantries our network serves. At the same time, many of our food banks tell us that they see a big drop in donations of shelf-stable food, as there are few food drives at this time of the year. This summer will be even tougher for low-income families who are enrolled in the Supplement Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, commonly known as food stamps) due to the loss of $11 billion in benefits last Nov. 1, when the temporary boost to the program through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act expired," Aiken said.

Here are some highlights of Feeding America's summer efforts this year:

  • The Rhode Island Community Food Bank is distributing"vacation boxes" of food and groceries to children who might otherwise go without, to tide them over between the last day of school and the first day of the summer feeding program.
  • The Lowcountry Food Bank in Charleston, South Carolina plans to increase its program from six sites to 32 this year, feeding 1,860 children each day. All of the meals will be prepared in the food bank's on-site kitchen, which also serves as a training center for unemployed and underemployed individuals.
  • Food for Lane County, a partner agency of the Oregon Food Bank Food, will serve more than 3,000 hot meals each day. A U.S. Post Office, a fire station, and a former logging camp in the mountains are among the unconventional sites where meals will be served. Bags of food and groceries will also be distributed to families and children in areas where congregant feeding is not practical.
  • America's Second Harvest of the Big Bend, Inc. in Tallahassee, Florida inaugurates a mobile feeding program this year, serving meals to children at 11 different sites on a retro-fitted school bus that has been converted into a"restaurant on wheels."
  • The San Antonio Food Bank has one of the largest initiatives; they plan to serve more than 1 million meals to children this summer, up from 300,000 in 2013.

"As Congress begins working on legislation to renew child nutrition programs, there is an opportunity to strengthen SFSP to help close the summer meal gap. We encourage our legislators to visit a summer feeding site, to see these vitally important programs in action," Aiken said.

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