CHICAGO, June 17, 2015 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Feeding America food banks are preparing for a summer of increased demand for food, while coping with decreased donations of both groceries and funds.
Nearly 22 million children currently receive free or reduced-price meals through the National School Lunch Program, yet the majority of those children, 4 out of every 5, will lose access to those meals as public schools close for the summer months.
"For many children across America, summer is a carefree time of fun and exploration. But for the millions of children who struggle with hunger, this time to revive instead becomes full of anxiety and uncertainty about not having enough nutritious food at home," said Matt Knott, president of Feeding America.
Research has found that some children consume up to 50 percent of their total daily calories at school during the school year. Thus, this loss of up to ten meals per child per week through school can create a tremendous financial burden for low-income families who are already struggling to obtain adequate food and necessities.
"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 local fund raising during the summer months. Many food pantries that rely heavily on local food drives to fill their shelves also report that they often have a tough time in the summer months, when church groups, scouting troops and clubs that hold most of their community's food drives go on hiatus," Knott said.
This summer, Feeding America food banks are providing nutritious meals and groceries to food insecure children across the nation. Many of these meal programs are supported in part by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). SFSP provides funding to qualified sponsors for meals served to low-income children when school is out. Last summer alone 100 food bank served 5.7 million nutritious meals to children in need through SFSP.
Food banks offer innovative meal programs that vary around the country to best serve the needs of individual communities including feeding kids at fire stations, U.S. Post Offices and at picnic tables in public parks. A number of food banks will deliver food and meals directly to low-income apartment buildings and individual homes in sparsely populated communities. Some food banks will also partner with local libraries and provide children with meals and snacks from book-mobiles. In some very rural areas, food banks will also need to ensure a steady delivery of potable water.
Despite the great efforts of food banks and many other important anti-hunger partner organizations, there are still many barriers for reaching children during the summer. For example, the USDA's current summer food service program provides reimbursements only for meals that are provided and consumed in group settings. Unfortunately, many low-income children have trouble accessing a summer feeding site. Transportation is a barrier, particularly in rural areas where children are dispersed. Some children are too young to walk to sites or unable to travel across highways or through high-crime areas while their parents are at work. Families may have to travel long distances to reach the nearest program, and the roundtrip fuel cost may outweigh the cost of the meal their child receives.
"Unfortunately, these site-based programs are reaching only about 18 percent- a small fraction- of children eligible for meal assistance during the summer. We believe that communities should have the flexibility to choose a model that best meets their needs, whether operating a program site, giving families a grocery card to supplement their household food budget, or providing meals that families can pick up and take home to their children," said Knott.
The rules that govern the USDA's Child Nutrition Programs, including SFSP, are current being re-authorized in the 2015 Child Nutrition Reauthorization. The reauthorization of this bill is an important opportunity to strengthen national child feeding programs. Congress should ensure more low-income children facing hunger can get the meals they need to grow and thrive when school is out of session by making it easier for communities to establish summer feeding sites in underserved areas and also giving states the flexibility to reach kids in alternative ways.
"We want to thank Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack for his commitment to increasing the number of eligible children reached by SFSP and exploring new options for the program," Knott said.
About Feeding America
Feeding America is the nationwide network of 200 food banks that leads the fight against hunger in the United States. Together, we provide food to more than 46 million people through 60,000 food pantries and meal programs in communities across America. Feeding America also supports programs that improve food security among the people we serve; educates the public about the problem of hunger; and advocates for legislation that protects people from going hungry. Individuals, charities, businesses and government all have a role in ending hunger. Donate. Volunteer. Advocate. Educate. Together we can solve hunger. Visit www.feedingamerica.org, find us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.
SOURCE Feeding America