Groups push for summer meal awareness and support

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The nonprofit advocacy group No Kid Hungry is partnering with the National Summer Learning Association on the July 13 observance of National Summer Learning Day, an advocacy day emphasizing the importance of keeping kids learning, safe and healthy every summer so they return to school in the fall ready to succeed. This year, the partners will feature new tools and stepped-up efforts to promote awareness—among local leaders, neighbors and friends—of the availability of summer meals for children and to make sure families themselves know how to find them.

By texting FOOD to 877-877, families will be able to find free summer meals for kids and teens in their neighborhoods. On July 13, partners will spread the word about summer nutrition and learning through Facebook, Twitter, and the hashtags #NoKidHungry, #SummerMeals, #KeepKidsLearning and #SummerLearningDay. They are also asking supporters to send out a coordinated social media message by going to www.nokidhungry.org/thunderclap.

Free summer meals graphic

The day of action comes just a month after the release of a new national study by the Food Research and Action Center showing a troubling recent drop in the number of children participating in summer nutrition programs. Without greater investments at all levels, too many children from low-income households will miss out on summer meals and face a greater risk of hunger, FRAC warns in its latest report.

The 2017 edition of "Hunger Doesn't Take a Vacation," FRAC's annual status report on summer nutrition programs, finds that these programs served 3 million fewer children across the country last year than in 2015. The report compares the number of children receiving summer meals with the number of low-income children receiving free or reduced-price school lunches during the regular school year. By this benchmark, only 1 in 7 children who needed summer nutrition received it in 2016.

Last year, many states reported year-over-year participation decreases in summer nutrition programs, which include the Summer Food Service Program and the National School Lunch Program, but the record was mixed. Participation grew in 22 states—growing by 10 percent or more in eight states—largely because of strong outreach by government agencies and partner organizations. By extending these strategies, "we can increase participation among low-income children [and] ensure every child has a hunger-free summer," FRAC President Jim Weill said after the June release of the report.

Summer meals are provided at schools, recreation centers, libraries, parks and other local sites for children 18 and under. Children also benefit from the enrichment activities offered at the vast majority of sites—keeping them learning, engaged and better prepared to return to school in the fall.

[Mike Rose, Chelsea Prax]