By Aphrael Boltas
Summertime means a lot of things: warm weather, longer days, trips to the beach, vacations and lying poolside. And for many students, it means a break from school. However, for a growing number of people, the absence from school leads to something else: food insecurity.
The number of children eligible for free and reduced meals has been steadily rising. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2012, more than half of the nation’s children attending public schools were eligible for the free and reduced lunch program.
This means that during the eight weeks of summer when children are no longer going to school and receiving free breakfast and lunch, parents must determine how to fill the gap.
While there are several year- round options for families and individuals to receive food assistance, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Women, Infants, and Children program (WIC), and food banks across the country, it is important to understand how the gap is bridged during the summer.
As someone who personally received free or reduced lunch for my four years at a Trenton public high school, with three siblings ranging from ages five to 12 who were also in the Trenton school system, I was entirely unaware that summer food assistance programs existed. Had I known, this could have made a major difference when it came time for my parents to decide to devote more money to the food budget and where to take it from.
The Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), a major summer assistance program funded by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) provides free meals and snacks during the summer months to children across the United States. The program includes three different sites: an open site, which operates in low income areas (areas where half of children come from families at or below 85 percent of the poverty level) and is able to provide free meals to all children. The second site, an enrolled site, provides free meals to any child enrolled in an activity at the program (at least half of children must be eligible for free or reduced lunch for the program to be eligible). Campsites, the third type of site, receive reimbursement for meals provided to children who are eligible for free or reduced lunch.
Anyone can search for a food service site in their area by using the Summer Food Rocks website, operated by the Food and Nurtition sevice (FNS). The website lists local sites and specifies their type and their times of operation.
In June, 2015 United Way of Greater Mercer County held an event called “Strike Out Hunger” where participants packaged oatmeal to distribute to food banks across New Jersey. Denise Daniels, who coordinated the event, said that “Strike Out Hunger” was a “way to bring awareness to the issue as well as supply food banks with much needed breakfast at the end of June when kids no longer have free lunch or breakfast.”
Daniels also spoke about the fact that during the summer months, in particular, families rely on food banks. And in comparison to Thanksgiving and Christmas time, there are far fewer donations. Participants at the event made 9,000 packages of oatmeal (75,000 servings), with three different food banks receiving 3,000 packages each. When United Way followed up with these food banks, they were told that all 9,000 packages were gone within two to three weeks.
United Way of Greater Mercer County
“Strike Out Hunger” June 2016
Phone: (609) 896-1912