With summer just around the corner, millions of children are about to lose their sole source of consistent nutrition: school lunch. What can your health and human service organization do to help push back against this hunger? We suggest three simple steps: inform, coordinate, and advocate.
School Is Out For Summer
With the summer months approaching quickly, children and teens across the nation are looking forward to one common event: the end of the academic year.
For most kids, the end of the school year means a summer full of adventure and relaxation. Many leave on vacations, participate in summer camps, or go hiking. This is not true for everyone, however. For millions of food-insecure kids, summer means one thing: hunger.
Statistics on Child Hunger
For many children, summer is the hungriest time of year. Without daily access to school lunch, kids who rely on federal aid are without their main source of nutrition.
On average, over 20 million children receive free or reduced lunch during the school year. Each of these students come from food insecure homes, and many are also living below the poverty line. Many families suffer from additional adverse social determinants of health, which limits their access to other food resources.
In comparison to the 20 million receiving federal nutrition help during the school year, only 3 million receive federal help during summer vacation. This means summer meals only meet 16% of total need.
“It’s kind of sad,” a Portland teen told the Urban Institute, “Because there’s some people that basically live on the school lunches.”
Why Some Children Go Hungry
Why is there such a large gap between school-year versus summertime hunger? The short answer is simple: access.
Although the federal government offers summer lunch programs for school-aged children, many do not have the means to pick them up. Several families experiencing food insecurity do not have a car or another form of transportation. This means children cannot return to the schools or facilities where these summer programs are based.
Some programs have tried to remedy this by setting up moveable lunch locations, but unfortunately many of the neighborhoods where food insecure kids live do not qualify for such initiatives. Additionally, there are significantly less resources available during the summer. According to non-profit Children Incorporated, there are only 36 summer lunch programs for every 100 school year ones. It is clear that the needs of these students are often compounding upon other social determinants of health. In order to address one, organizations must address several. This process can often be complicated and expensive.
How Your Program Can Help
While the situation may seem dire, your organization can help. Regardless of if your program is focused on food and nutrition (such as a food bank) or another social service (like homelessness or refugee resettlement), there are three simple steps you can take today to help food insecure children during the hungry summer months: inform, coordinate, and advocate.
Many experts point to the information drought as a large reason why only 16% of children in need get access to school lunch. Your organization can help mitigate this by learning about the options available in your community and sharing them with the people you serve. Child hunger is a family issue, and it takes a family-centered approach to solve it.
Care coordination is proven to be an incredibly effective way to care for the whole person. Reach out to other health and human service providers in your area, such as homeless shelters, workforce development groups, and food banks to see what resources you each have and how you can help one another achieve whole person care.
In order for the status of child hunger to change, it requires political action as well. Legislatures (both state and federal) hold the power to make lasting change for programs like summer lunches. Encourage your volunteers to help advocate for ending child hunger.
As we all begin to enjoy the coming summer months, remember that not all summers are enjoyable for many children. Each social service organization has both the obligation and the unique opportunity to help end child hunger, not just during the school year, but all year.
Eccovia is proud to support social service agencies and organizations focused on ending food insecurity in the United States. For more information about our industry-leading case management platform ClientTrack™, feel free to schedule a demo with us.
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