Struggling to Eat in the Dog Days of Summer
For most kids, summer vacation means it’s time to relax, play outside, head to camp, and enjoy the sunshine. But for children who receive free or reduced-price meals through the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs, the end of school takes on a different meaning. It could mean being hungry and going without food. During the summer, families participating in school nutrition programs face the added stress of putting more food on the table with limited funds already stretched thin.
Seasonal programs such as the USDA Summer Food Service Program alleviate some of the issues surrounding summer hunger by providing free meals to children under 18 at approved sites in low-income communities. But families still face problems when attempting to access these resources. Sarah Palmer, a member of Witnesses to Hunger, a project that features photographs and testimonies of parents who know poverty firsthand, volunteers at a Summer Lunch Program in Oakland, CA. She shared, “The other day, a mother and her two kids told me that their local library that hosted a Summer Lunch Program closed. They had to walk to another site: to an unfamiliar neighborhood, over a mile, with two hungry, restless children.”
Aside from limited access to Summer Food Service Programs, families experiencing summer hunger also struggle to keep up with the growing appetites of their children as they engage in summer activities and camps. Anisa Davis, a member of Witnesses to Hunger from Camden, NJ, knows how hard it is to provide adequate meals for her kids when school is out. “In the summer I know that feeding my children will be even more difficult,” said Anisa. “Kids play more, and without school meals I need to keep them hydrated and fed throughout the day.” Improved access to summer meal programs and additional SNAP funds would help families who, according to Anisa, “have to take money from paying their bills to use at the grocery store since they don’t have any buffer to help make up for the loss of school meals.”
Members of Congress understand these issues, and efforts to address summer hunger have come from both the House and the Senate as well as from both parties. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) recently proposed the Stop Child Summer Hunger Act (S. 2366), an act that would provide families with children who receive free or reduced-price meals at school with additional funds on EBT cards for the summer.
In addition, Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Representatives Don Young (R-AK) and Rick Larsen (D-WA) proposed the Summer Meals Act of 2014 (S. 2527), a bill that would enhance efforts to expand the reach of the Summer Food Service Program to low-income children and simplify the administration of the program for sponsors. These bipartisan efforts offer potential solutions to summer hunger and, for mothers like Sarah and Anisa, offer hope for relief from the additional struggles that summer brings for families in poverty. The passing of these bills could change the meaning of summer vacation for kids who receive free or reduced-price school meals. Summer would no longer mean a season of hungrier days, but rather a time for fun, joy and nourishment.
[Photo: Maryland GovPics via Flickr]