As I travel across the country visiting our nation’s summer meals sites, I am proud of the commitment we’ve collectively made to nourish both the bodies and minds of our country’s children and teens. Schools, recreation centers, places of worship, libraries and other community sites have generously opened their doors to ensure kids receive healthy, balanced meals during the summer months – a time when many low-income families struggle to provide their children nutritious meals and snacks each and every day.
At USDA we’ve long recognized summer as a vulnerable time for kids and have been focused on closing the food security gap that occurs during the months when school is out of session. Since 2009, more than 1.2 billion meals have been served through the Summer Meal Programs, fueling kids and teens throughout the summer and helping to ensure they are healthy and ready to learn when the school year begins.
In support of these same goals, the White House announced earlier this year the Summer Opportunity Project, a multi-agency initiative to expand opportunities for young people through the summer. The initiative aims to increase the participation of youth in evidence-based summer opportunity programs and make sure young Americans have the support they need to get their first job.
USDA’s Summer Meal Programs play an important role in achieving this mission. By ensuring the most basic need of good nutrition is met, kids and teens in eligible communities can more easily pursue and leverage summer opportunities. Many sites offer not only healthy meals and snacks, but also host physical and enrichment activities to keep kids engaged and coming back day after day. By including free and low-cost activities into Summer Meal Programs, sites boost attendance and make the meal service more fun for children, their families, and volunteers. To support these efforts, this spring USDA published Summer Food, Summer Moves to help sites and sponsors offer ideas on engaging kids, teens, and their families.
Increasing the number of meals served through the Summer Meal Programs has been a rewarding achievement during my time at FNS, as each meal served elevates the life of a child or teen in our country. With the help of our creative and hardworking volunteers, sponsors and partners, we were able to serve more than 190 million meals last summer. Groups like Fuel Up to Play 60, Feeding America, Catholic Charities, United Way, and First Book have all played a key part in providing access to summer meals for children living in areas with high food insecurity. Engaging the community in summer meals is also integral to the success of the program. These programs allow communities to take a lead role in preventing hunger and focus their efforts where there is increased need.
To locate a summer meal site near you, visit http://www.fns.usda.gov/summerfoodrocks