As the summer break quickly approaches, millions of American kids will fill their days with trips to local parks, swim endless laps around community pools, and spend countless hours laughing with their friends and families. For most children, this well-deserved break means no more homework to complete, no more heavy backpacks to carry, and no more tests. What’s not to love about summer? Sadly, for millions of low-income kids who live in poverty, the summer break also means no more steady meals. For them, this break poses a daily test with just one question: What will I eat?
For these kids, the federally funded breakfasts, lunches and snacks served in schools are often the only source of a guaranteed meal, and the only safe haven from rumbling stomachs and agonizing hunger. These meals are paid for by the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act (Child Nutrition Reauthorization) — a federally backed effort to provide healthy, nutritious meals for low-income children before, during and after school. More importantly, the Child Nutrition Reauthorization funds summer meal programs that feed millions of children, who would otherwise go hungry when the last bell rings and schools close their doors for the summer.
Filling the Void
Each year, with crucial funding from the Child Nutrition Reauthorization, parks and recreation agencies across the nation open their doors, gymnasiums, community rooms and hearts to serve more than 560 million meals — enough to feed every American almost twice. In fact, aside from schools, park and recreation agencies feed more people than any other public agency. While this is good news, there are still 16 million kids who participate in free and reduced-cost meal programs during the school year who have no access to healthy summer meals. To bridge this gap during the summer, NRPA members are doing their part by creating innovative ways to feed hungry children. From block parties and “Playstreets” in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to mobile meal deliveries and food trucks in Gary, Indiana, our members have stepped in to fill the void, reaching these 16 million children and defeating childhood hunger.
By all accounts, these summer meal programs are wildly successful. Even during the height of the Great Recession, they helped put food in the hands of hungry children across the country and spawned new innovations like text-messaging services, hunger hotlines and mobile deliveries — all without bankrupting states and municipalities. Unfortunately, funding for school and summer meals will soon run out unless Congress passes the Child Nutrition Reauthorization before the end of September. Failure to pass this bill means more kids with rumbling stomachs, more innocent children with hunger headaches and more young people too hungry to lead active and healthy lifestyles. In short, we’d be turning our backs on hungry children when they need us the most.
The good news is we have champions in Congress who are committed to making it easier for park and recreation agencies to feed hungry children. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) have introduced the Summer Meals Act of 2015, which cuts red tape for park and recreation agencies, as well as other service providers, allowing them to serve hungry kids more food each day. Passing the Summer Meals Act of 2015 will go a long way toward preventing hunger in the summer months and will help NRPA members to better meet the needs of our communities in innovative ways.
NRPA’s public policy team is also working hard to make sure that no child ever goes hungry and is urging Congress to increase funding for summer meals. We’re storming Capitol Hill, talking with members of Congress, dialing the phones, sending emails and telling anyone who will listen about the importance of summer meals — all to stamp out the scourge of childhood hunger in America. You can join in the fight to end hunger by telling your representatives in Congress to get serious about supporting the Summer Meals Act of 2015.
Oliver Spurgeon III is NRPA’s Manager of Government Affairs.