Summer Meals Programs Help Stretch Summertime Food Budgets
Post written by Kim Caldwell with the No Kid Hungry Center for Best Practices
Teachers, parents, and kids tell us all the time that childhood hunger doesn't take a vacation during the summer months. That's because kids who normally get a lunch or breakfast at school lose access to those meals when class lets out for summer break. This loss of healthy school meals means, for some families, summertime can be a time of financial uncertainty.
New findings by Share Our Strength's No Kid Hungry campaign show that low-income families find it harder to make ends meet during summer months. In our national survey of 1,200 low-income families in the United States:
- 43 percent say that they find it harder to make ends meet during the summer.
- 32 percent report sometimes finding themselves without enough food during the summer months.
- Most low-income families (62 percent) report spending more on food during the summer months with an average increase of $300 more per month.
There is a solution. Free summer meals are available to kids and teens age 18 and under at thousands of meals sites across the country. Summer meal programs can help families save money during summertime. However, while more than 21 million kids in the U.S. receive free and reduced-price school lunches, just over 3 million of these kids get a free summer meal. A lack of awareness about the program and access to summer meals sites contribute to the low participation.
This summer, the No Kid Hungry campaign is making sure kids can get these important meals. The No Kid Hungry campaign raises awareness to ensure parents and kids know about the program through texting campaigns, launch events, neighborhood canvassing, social media, and PSAs. These strategies to increase participation only work if there are safe, trusted, easily accessed sites serving meals, so we also work on the state and local level to recruit new sites, with small grants to cover start-up costs and outreach staff to help them get up and running. Much of this work is done through public-private collaboration, including groups like the Arby's Foundation, the USDA, governors' offices, state agencies, and No Kid Hungry partners on the state and local level. To learn more about our work to increase summer meals program participation, check out the 2012 report Tackling Summer Hunger: Ensuring No Kid Goes Hungry When School Is Out (PDF).
As part of the education community, you can play an even bigger role in raising awareness about summer meals. The same national survey found that the number one place families want to hear about meal programs is from their child's school. Even if your school isn't operating summer meals, you can help make sure that low-income kids in your area know how to find free meals in the area. For ideas and resources, visit our School-Based Outreach section of the Sodexo Foundation Summer Meals Outreach Toolkit on the Center for Best Practices website.
You can also help us make sure no child goes hungry this summer by raising awareness about free summer meals by directing families to visit NoKidHungry.org/SummerMeals, or call 1-866-3HUNGRY to find a site and learn more, or text FOOD to 877-877 to find a site nearby.
Kim Caldwell is a program manager with whole child partner Share Our Strength's No Kid Hungry Center for Best Practices. No child should grow up hungry in America, but one in five children struggles with hunger. Share Our Strength's No Kid Hungry campaign is ending childhood hunger in this nation by connecting kids in need with nutritious food and teaching families how to cook healthy, affordable meals. You can help surround kids with the nutritious food they need where they live, learn, and play. Pledge to make No Kid Hungry a reality at NoKidHungry.org.