By Agriculture Under Secretary Kevin Concannon
Children need access to healthy food all year long, because good nutrition provides the sound foundation they need to learn, grow and thrive. As USDA’s Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, it pleases me to say that during the regular school year, America’s schoolchildren can depend on the science-based nutrition provided by National School Lunch Program meals and the healthy choices now available at school. But when school is out during the summer months, it’s another story. Many kids don’t have access to even one nutritious meal a day.
USDA’s summer meals programs work to reach those children by providing free, nutritious meals at sites throughout the nation. Unfortunately, millions of eligible low-income children are still missing out. That’s pretty clear when you stop to consider that although about 21 million children nationwide receive free and reduced-priced meals through the National School Lunch Program during the regular school year, only about 3.5 million kids are reached through our summer meals programs.
Job one is to make sure that eligible children get information about the program. Summer feeding sites are located in many communities across the country, especially in low-income areas. USDA needs your help to get the word out and connect eligible kids with summer meals. Schools, community groups, and religious organizations can help with this effort. To find a summer meal site serving children in your community, call 1-866-3-Hungry or 1-877-8-Hambre or visit the National Hunger Clearinghouse resource directory.
If you or your organization is interested in helping us get the word out about summer meals, please visit the Food and Nutrition Service Summer Food website, www.summerfood.usda.gov, for more information and resources. The SFSP toolkit, available in both English and Spanish, includes templates, customizable flyers, door hangers, letters to parents, activity sheets for children, and attendance certificates. Promising practices and tips for success are also available on the website.
You can help other ways, too. While providing children with nutritious meals is our top priority, the key to success is keeping kids coming back to the sites throughout the summer. Offering fun, age-appropriate physical activity at summer meal sites is a proven way to ensure attendance and encourage healthy habits. And that takes volunteers – LOTS of them – especially in June, July, and August. Volunteers can help with basics, like transporting food, setting up or cleaning up a site. Volunteers can also plan and lead educational or recreational activities with the children. Go to www.serve.gov/endhunger to find an opportunity to volunteer in your community or to post a volunteer opportunity if you operate a summer meal program.