Short-sighted thinking about child hunger threatens the health, wellness and academic success of our children. Instead of bringing hungry children together in one place and giving them access to healthy meals, STEM and reading classes, and a safe place to play, some in Washington think these kids would be better off with to-go meals. Our young people should never miss valuable tutoring, training and healthy meals because adults choose the easiest path forward — not the most effective one.
Every day, rain or shine, before and after school and during the summer, park and recreation agencies pair fresh and nutritious meals with math and science tutoring, homework help, and indoor and outdoor exercise. This combination is a win-win for hungry children. They get tutoring and training to foster creative thinking and feed their minds, while eating healthy meals to nourish their growing bodies.
Eating together is a way of life in America. We do it around the dinner table every night with our families, in our offices with coworkers during the day, and at picnics with friends on the weekends. In similar fashion, the U.S Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) congregate meals requirement gathers children in one place to eat healthy meals. This allows service providers, like park and recreation agencies, to also offer tutoring and skills training, conduct medical exams, and plan healthy activities like team sports and exercise for kids in a supervised environment while they eat.
As the largest public provider of meals outside of schools, park and recreation agencies remain an integral part of America’s battle against child hunger, and serve over 560 million meals each year. We’re proud of the work we’ve done to keep children healthy, fed and ready to succeed in the classroom. Doing away with the congregate meals requirement would mean millions of children, many of whom are already at risk of falling behind in school or battling childhood obesity, would lose access to tutoring, summer classes, healthy meals, and exercise opportunities at park and recreation centers.
Families across the country strive to ensure their children have the best chance at success possible by enrolling them in tutoring, summer classes and sports activities. Hungry kids should have the same opportunity to succeed, and the congregate meals requirement helps park and recreation agencies keep these children on a path to success.
Parks and recreation centers are hubs for public health innovation and wellness, centers of education and learning, and gathering places for community engagement. Simply stated, too many of America’s children are hungry, lag behind their peers in the classroom, and face the growing threat of childhood obesity. This fall, Congress has a chance to reaffirm its support for park and recreation agencies and the congregate meals requirement in the upcoming Child Nutrition Reauthorization. America’s children deserve the best possible chance at a successful and healthy future. Let’s show our commitment to them by keeping the congregate meals requirement in the upcoming Child Nutrition Reauthorization.
Let your senators and representative know why they need to support summer meals and summer learning! Here’s how:
• Find your representative and senators and their Twitter handles by looking them up via zip code at GovTrack.us.
• Tweet at them using #CongregateMeals, #SummerMealsAct, #SummerLearning and #CNR2015.
• Keep #CongregateMeals in #CNR2015, [Tag Your Member of Congress] to support #SummerLearning and classroom success! #SummerMeals @NRPA_news
• #CongregateMeals keep kids healthy & smart, [Tag Your Member of Congress]. Parks & rec support learning for all children during summer!
• #CongregateMeals help parks & rec serve 560 million meals every year. Support #CNR2015, [Tag Your Member of Congress]! @NRPA_news
Oliver Spurgeon is NRPA's Government Affairs Manager.