While most American schoolchildren look forward to summer, June through September can be a “gap” period for low-income children who rely on free or subsidized school meals, according to the nonprofit Feeding America. Weekends, winter and spring vacations, and weekdays after school are also gap periods when kids may not get enough to eat. A 2010 study by Feeding America found that 87 percent of children participating in subsidized school meal programs often go hungry during the summertime. But the organization’s Summer Food Program is working to fill this gap in nutrition by providing meals to low-income children during the summer through member food banks, private partnerships, and Federal summer nutrition programs.
According to Feeding America, “while over 21 million children participated in the free or reduced price school meal program in 2011, just over two million children received meals during the summer months, largely due to the lack of local programs.” Eighty-one of Feeding America’s member food banks currently run summer feeding programs to help minimize the summer gap in child nutrition, and its Summer Food Program reaches over 130,000 children through its member food banks each year.
Feeding America strongly supports the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), a federal program run by the Food and Nutrition Services department of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). SFSP provides free meals and snacks to children under 18 in low-income families; all meals meet federal standards for nutrition. According to the USDA, US$423.7 million of the US$109 billion spent on federal nutrition programs during fiscal year 2013 was invested in SFSP and 12 other federal nutrition programs.
In July of 2013, its peak month, SFSP fed 2.4 million children per day. The program reimburses sponsors for meals and snacks. Twenty-five percent of United States food banks sponsor SFSP, but paperwork and other challenges hinder widespread participation. Feeding America promotes private sector support of local food banks, which can help with administrative expenses, staffing and transportation costs, and raising public awareness.
Feeding America’s website has a list of summer meal programs around the country for those who are would like to learn about programs available in their state. The SFSP website is also a good resource for those considering starting a summer food program at their local food bank. Its web-based summer meals toolkit makes it easy for interested state governments and regional organizations to administer SFSP locally and ensure that nutritious meals reach hungry children in every community.