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summer meals

Fighting Hunger: Closing the Summer Feeding Gap

Summer is tough to enjoy when you’re hungry. It’s a hard reality that many kids from low-income households face when school is out and the weather turns sunny. To help close the summer feeding gap, the Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer demonstration offers a new model to do just that.

Without the daily nutrition provided by the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program, many families facing poverty are also experiencing its most difficult symptom: hunger. USDA has several tools to help solve this problem, with the newest addition being the Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer for Children demonstration project, commonly referred to as Summer EBT.

A Reflection: Celebrating Eight Years of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships

Looking back at USDA’s efforts to help rural America thrive, I am truly proud of the impact our diverse partners, both from faith and secular communities, have had within their communities. On behalf of the USDA Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, I would like to say thank you to our partners these past eight years as well as reflect on a few notable highlights of the work we have achieved together.

USDA touches the lives of all Americans every day, whether they realize it or not. While our programs to reduce food insecurity are well known, our nation’s most vulnerable citizens can still be hard to reach. Faith-based and community partners have been especially helpful in this area, particularly when it comes to feeding children in summer months, when school is out of session. In collaboration with many partners, including Catholic Charities USA, the Church of God in Christ, Islamic Relief USA, the National Baptist Convention and the Salvation Army, USDA increased the number of summer meals served to kids by 16% between 2009 and 2015, a total of more than 1.2 billion summer meals served when school is out and food is scarce.

Already Planning to Feed More Kids than Ever During Summer 2017

Now that summer has come and gone, I’m happy to announce that this season the USDA Rural Housing Service was able to partner with the USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) to feed more kids than ever before. Three hundred and five Rural Housing Service Multi-Family Housing properties participated in FNS’ Summer Meal Programs, which provide low-income children with free, healthy meals during the summer when school is out. This is 121 more affordable housing communities we were able to serve than the year before, and almost triple the number from 2014.

This is a huge success, and I’m so proud of my team across the country for feeding more kids at our properties than ever before! However, we cannot become complacent because we have the potential to make an even bigger difference in the lives of rural kids. There are more opportunities to partner with borrowers in our Multi-Family Housing and Community Facilities Programs, and I’ve set a lofty goal for summer 2017.

Farm to School Goes Year Round in the Northeast

Over the past few summers, sponsors of USDA’s Summer Meals Programs have been elevating meal quality and encouraging program participation by serving seasonal menus, utilizing high quality ingredients, and providing nutrition education activities. We’ve heard of such farm to summer activities – the embedding of farm to school principles within summer meals programs – from practitioners all around the country. Here in the Northeast, summer 2016 brought a wave of coordinated programming, and National Farm to School Month is the perfect time to celebrate this trend that is supporting healthy kids and communities all year long!

Farmers Markets Bring Farm-Fresh Foods & Fun to Summer Meals

This National Farmers Market Week, we celebrate a growing national trend that exemplifies the power of partnership in achieving common goals. Across the country, sponsors of USDA’s Summer Meals Programs are joining forces with their local farmers markets, realizing a multitude of shared benefits.  These partnerships increase access to the local seasonal bounty the summer months have to offer and help keep kids and their families nourished and active while school is out. Check out how three communities are taking full advantage of all that farmers markets during the summer months!

Summer Meals: Giving Families the Support They Need

As a mother and grandmother, I understand the importance of ensuring that America’s children are provided with nutritious meals every day. My grandchildren, who are 5 and 8, are just like all children – infinitely curious and filled with energy, love, and joy. Young children should be playing and learning -- not worried about where their next meal will come from. But for many children, school meals are their only source of nutrition, which is why USDA’s Summer Meals Programs are so important.

Summer Meals provide kids with the nutrition they need when school is out, and a safe haven where they can play and learn to keep their minds and bodies active during the summer months. The availability of these meals, which are served at no cost to children 18 and under, also reduces the financial burden on caretakers when school is out of session.

Breaking Down Barriers to Address Food Insecurity

No American should have to go hungry.  USDA’s 15 nutrition assistance programs make great strides in reaching those in need, but challenges and barriers persist to eradicating food insecurity in our nation.  That’s where leadership and partnerships come into play.

Earlier this month, FNS had the opportunity to participate in an interactive discussion on the obstacles faced on effectively communicating to specific populations at the 2016 Feeding America Annual Conference in Chicago.  The dialogue focused on reaching the most vulnerable Americans: those in Tribal communities, teens and our nation’s proud military veterans.  The hurdles to reach all three are unique, and strategies require nuance, understanding and a bold commitment to better connect individuals with nutrition assistance information.

Summer Meals: Fueling Children and Teens to Reach Their Highest Potential

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.

Strawberries, Blueberries, Corncobs, Oh My! - Bringing the Farm to Summer

Fields of asparagus and peas are in full bounty, soon to make way for sweet, juicy strawberries; towering stalks of corn; and more tomatoes than you’d ever know what to do with!  In many parts of the country, as we approach summer, the warm weather means that local harvests are at their peak, and fresh fruits and vegetables abound.  That’s what makes summer the perfect time of year for incorporating local foods into your meals.  And according to the most recently released data from the Farm to School Census 2015, more than 1,000 school districts nationwide are doing just that:  They’re bringing the farm to summer!

When school lets out for summer, there’s still a need to ensure the millions of children who receive free and reduced-price school meals during the school year have consistent access to healthy meals.  USDA’s summer meals programs help fill that gap, serving over 191 million meals to children last summer alone!  Community centers, libraries, day camps, churches, and more can all sign up to host a summer meals site through the summer meals programs, but schools make for a particularly good site since they already have food production facilities in place for serving meals throughout the school year.  The Farm to School Census 2015 found that more than one in five school districts that participate in farm to school programs report including local foods in meals served through their summer meals programs.

Summer Meal Programs Fight Hunger with Nutritious Food and Innovation

The following guest blog discusses the importance of USDA Summer Meals Programs, which provide children with healthy food during the summer, when the school meals they depend on disappear.  Childhood memories shared by the writer demonstrate how critical healthy meals are to the growth and development of children.  USDA’s approaches to making summer meals accessible are also highlighted.

By Jesus Garcia, Special Assistant, Office of Communications, Administration for Children and Families (HHS)

When I was young, summers seemed to last forever. Days were long and hot in rural South Texas.

One thing I looked forward to after riding my bicycle all over the neighborhood was a nice lunch prepared by my grandmother Angelita. Meals like arroz con pollo (rice with chicken) or carne guisada (stewed meat) with a side of beans provided the energy I needed to keep up with an adventurous summer.

Good food not only helps your body climb hills when you’re a kid, but it helps your brain develop in order to learn new stuff.  For some children in our communities, though, not enough healthy food is available for them to enjoy and help them grow. Luckily, a very helpful program exists that communities can use to tackle this problem: USDA’s Summer Meal Programs.