To quote the ever-eloquent Alice Cooper, “School’s out for summer!” And that means, it’s prime time for park and recreation agencies that provide summer meals and snacks to the children involved with our programs. This summer, Congress is reviewing the federal programs that help NRPA members provide the food for the bodies and minds of the kids we serve. And, what happens on Capitol Hill will impact your agency and the families you serve.
The good news is that Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) of the Senate Agriculture Committee and his Democratic counterpart Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), are committed to working on a reauthorization of the Childhood Nutrition Act. Chairman Roberts has publicly stated that he would like to move a bill by August. The even better news is that in meetings with NRPA, staff for both senators have said that the Committee members want to hear from impacted stakeholders — like you. Yes, you! You’re the experts, after all!
What’s at Stake?
As we all know, the ability to offer meals to kids helps increase participation in the summer programming opportunities park and recreation agencies provide. That programming is critical to producing a safe, enriching place for our kids to learn, play and be healthy. Positive changes to the Childhood Nutrition Act, like expanding eligibility requirements, improving access to transportation or simply making it easier for agencies to apply for funding, could make it easier to serve even more kids by allowing agencies to serve more meals. Unfortunately, other potential changes to the Child Nutrition Act could also make it harder. There are members of Congress who are interested in removing the incentives for serving meals at community sites, like park and recreation centers.
That’s where you come in! You can make an incredible impact on the future of summer meal programs by inviting your members of Congress for a visit. Members of Congress appreciate the chance to attend events and interact with constituents, and, let’s be honest, they also love a good photo opportunity. As park and recreation professionals, you have unbeatable photogenic assets at your disposal — beautiful parks, awesome facilities, incredible staff and cute kids! Ask your members of Congress to attend a summer meal kickoff event or give them the program dates and mealtimes so they can stop by during the summer congressional recesses. Let them know they can simply observe the program, help pass out a meal or even join in on a fun activity! You don’t need to be an expert in nutrition policy to make the case for the Child Nutrition Act: let the programs speak for themselves! It’s hard to argue against the benefits of serving free, healthy meals at park and recreation agencies once you’ve seen firsthand a program — and the kids benefiting from it!
Through the Park Champion initiative, NRPA’s grassroots advocacy program, NRPA members across the country have invited their members of Congress to visit their summer and afterschool meal programs. The Park Champion Advocacy Toolkit makes it incredibly easy to send an invitation. Included in the toolkit is:
- A ZIP code search tool to help you find your members of Congress (hey, it’s okay if you’re not sure!)
- An editable draft invitation to copy and paste into the body of an email
- Names and email addresses of the schedulers for each member of Congress
- Step-by-step instructions and examples from fellow NRPA members on hosting a member of Congress at your program
It only takes a few moments to send an invitation — and make a huge difference in the fight to reauthorize the Child Nutrition Act. So, what are you waiting for? Head on over to www.nrpa.org/park-champions to get started today! If you have questions or would like help sending your invitations, reach out to Jayni Rasmussen, NRPA’s advocacy and outreach manager.
Jim Bradley is NRPA’s Vice President of Government Affairs.