ASHLAND, Va., Aug. 13, 2015 – Today, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development Under Secretary Lisa Mensah joined Under Secretary Kevin Concannon of the Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services, community members, and residents of the Laurel Woods Apartments in Ashland, Va., to celebrate an interagency partnership against childhood hunger. The department has worked to increase the number of Rural Development multi-family housing communities serving as USDA summer food sites for low-income families to receive meals when school is not in session. In 2015, a record 174 communities hosted summer lunch activities providing a convenient option for families who may otherwise not have access to nutritious meals in the summer months.
"While hunger exists in every community across the country, the rate of food insecurity among rural households is higher than the national average," said Under Secretary Concannon. "Partnering to increase access to healthy and nutritious meals for our nation's rural children further supports USDA's commitment to ensuring that rural America continues to be a great place to live, work and raise a family."
During the school year, more than 21 million low-income children rely on free and reduced priced meals provided by the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs, but only 3.8 million participate in USDA's two summer meal programs, the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and the National School Lunch Program's Seamless Summer Option. These programs work together to close this gap by ensuring children have access to safe, healthy meals when school lets out, helping children to stay healthy and be ready to learn when they return to school in the fall.
"Since hunger doesn't take a vacation during the summer, we recognize the importance of bringing efforts to provide nutritious meals to rural communities that may need it most. It is important that families become aware of the summer meal programs to ensure that children have access to three healthy meals a day when they are at home for the summer," said Under Secretary Mensah.
Laurel Woods is one of many rural apartment complexes throughout the country that USDA finances to provide affordable rental housing. Collaborating with Rural Development multi-family housing complexes during the summer months is a major component of USDA's fight against rural child food insecurity. Multi-family housing complexes are ideal partners for the summer meal programs because they already have community gathering spaces and can involve the support of housing residents who are interested in volunteering to supervise meals and support enrichment activities for kids. More importantly, serving summer meals at multi-family complexes can help eliminate a major barrier to food access in rural communities—a lack of transportation.
"Many people in underserved areas either have limited public transportation options or must drive long distances for healthy food options" said Under Secretary Concannon. "Partnering with USDA's rural development efforts to serve children in hard to reach areas is a proven practice that has helped remove barriers to participation and increase a child's access to food."
In 2014, 187 million meals were served to children and teens at over 50,000 sites through the program. This summer, to mark the 40th anniversary of the program, USDA has set a goal of serving 200 million meals.
The Under Secretaries told owners and managers of USDA-financed apartments that it is never too early to contact their USDA Rural Development state offices for information on how to participate in the summer meal programs in 2016.
"We want to raise the bar even higher in 2016 because it truly takes a village to make sure that our children have all they need to be healthy and ready to learn when they return to school," Mensah said. "The folks who make it happen are the caring community members, multi-family housing property managers, building owners and the families who live here. We know that this program only works when people invest their time to care for their neighbors in need."
President Obama's historic investments in rural America have made our rural communities stronger. Under his leadership, these investments in housing, community facilities, businesses and infrastructure have empowered rural America to continue leading the way – strengthening America's economy, small towns and rural communities.
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