Cross-posted from the National Dairy Council blog:
Summer vacation is something all kids look forward to, but unfortunately hunger doesn’t take a vacation. More than 21 million American children and teens depend on free or reduced-price school meals during the school year, and when school cafeterias close, many of them lose their most important source of balanced nutrition and are at risk of going hungry.
That’s why the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and dedicated partners like National Dairy Council are working to provide nutritious meals to hungry kids throughout the summer. We know that children are particularly vulnerable to hunger and poor nutrition during this time. And our summer meals programs are well-poised to help fill this gap, serving as an important source of nutritious food for children and youth during the long summer break.
Summer nutrition helps prepare children to go into the next school year energized and ready to learn. And this year, there are even more opportunities for new and existing sponsors and hosts to get involved. USDA provides tools and resources to help community groups learn new and innovative ways to reach eligible children, as well as provide services uniquely tailored to their communities. Many of the meal sites, for example, now offer recreation and enrichment programs. Children are not only well-fed, but have the opportunity to take part in activities that will keep them active and healthy when school is out of session.
Providing access to nutritious, balanced meals for children and teens in a safe environment throughout the summer is a priority for USDA. And while we and our partners have made great strides in reaching hungry children when schools are out of session, it’s our goal to ensure access to nutritious meals to all eligible children.
Our partners recognize the importance of the summer meals programs and have stepped up to the plate in a big way. Fuel Up to Play 60, for instance, promoted summer meals programs through their council chapter, recruiting NFL players to lend their star power for kick-off events in targeted states across the country. It’s these types of efforts that allowed us to serve 187 million meals to children and teens at over 50,000 sites in 2014.
To build on that momentum, this year we hope to serve 200 million meals throughout the summer. The key to achieving that goal is educating parents and children about the importance of nutrition during the summer and making sure they know where they can find a meal site near them.
As we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the summer meals program, we are confident that the program will continue to serve as a foundation to address summer hunger and sustain healthy eating habits for our nation’s young people. But we also know we can’t do it alone. So during Summer Food Service Program Kick Off Week, observed June 1- 5, USDA wants to invite everyone to help spread the word about this important program. Together, we’re building a healthier next generation of Americans.
To find a summer site in your community, please visit: http://www.fns.usda.gov/summerfoodrocks or call 1-866-3-HUNGRY or 1-877-8-HAMBRE.