D.C. Summer Program Provides Free and Healthy Meals to Youth

DC | January 2014 | By National Recreation and Park Association

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Tags: Nutrition

Washington D.C. is home to more than half a million people -- 601,723 to be exact. Out of those roughly 120,945 people are struggling for food. In 2008-2012, 30.5 percent of households with children in D.C. said they were unable to afford enough food. In the most poverty stricken areas, there are as few as three grocery stores total which creates limited access to healthy and affordable food for hundreds of families. In addition to low food security, Washington D.C. has a 21.4 percent childhood obesity rate for children ages 10-17. Decreasing childhood obesity and teaching children healthy eating habits are extremely important goals to the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation.

To help address these problems, a partnership was formed between the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation and D.C. Hunger Solutions. D.C. Hunger Solutions is a local anti-hunger advocacy and education organization that strives to establish a hunger-free community. In order to make this possible the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation received a grant from NRPA and the Walmart Foundation to help support their summer and afterschool meal programs while promoting healthy eating through nutrition education in their out-of-school time programs.

With this grant, the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation expanded their summer feeding program that was able to feed the youth in the D.C. community. By partnering with D.C. Hunger Solutions, the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation has been able to feed more than 85 percent of eligible children in the program. Not only does the program feed local children, but they also implemented employment programs for youth under the age of 18.

With the help of NRPA, the program’s feeding sites spread to places such as libraries, faith based organizations, YMCAs, and schools. By adding so many additional feeding sites the program was able to serve over 27,000 meals a day.

"The NRPA grant is our megaphone to reach and inform the parents of these children that they do not need to go hungry," said D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation Interim Director Sharia Shanklin, Ed.D. "They have access to salads, fruits, lean proteins and a variety of foods. This grant will help us increase awareness that the meals are available, and that they can be part of the program throughout the summer."

Looking forward, the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation is determined to expand their participation from youth and parents in the program. With the help of this program, the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation hopes to see the high numbers of food struggles and childhood obesity rates decrease significantly. They anticipate continuing to be the number one summer food program in the country for years to come.