Cumberland Times-News

Letters

April 3, 2014

Summer shouldn’t mean hunger for children

As a child, I always looked forward to the

carefree joy of summertime. I remember the

long days of playing outside at a nearby park

until I needed to

come home for

lunch.

Unfortunately,

many of our

nation’s children

do not experience the simple joys of summer.

In fact, far too many are left worrying where

their next breakfast or lunch will come from

when schools are dismissed for summer break.

During the school year, about 31 million

American children receive school meals

through the National School Lunch Program

and School Breakfast Program every day.

About 21 million of those children receive

meals at a discounted rate or for free, based on

their family’s income. When summer comes,

though, only about 3.5 million of these children

participate in USDA’s summer meals programs.

That means millions of eligible low-income

children are at risk of going hungry during the

summer months. And we know that to thrive

and reach their highest potential, children

need good nutrition all year long.

USDA’s Summer Food Service Program

(SFSP) is working to fill this hunger gap for

children who qualify for free and reduced price

meals during the school year.

The program serves free healthy meals to

eligible children ages 18 and under, and is

made possible through the efforts of national,

state, and local partners, including a cadre of

energized volunteers.

While USDA has worked to increase access

to summer meals for low-income children for

many years, SFSP began receiving priority

attention in 2013.

Last summer, USDA employed a new tactic

of working with partners to deliver intensive,

targeted technical assistance on SFSP in five

states. The result was a historic increase in

the number of meals served, nationwide —7

million more than the previous year! We hope

to continue building on last year’s successes

with our state and local partners in 2014, and

move closer to closing the summer hunger gap.

The key to success this year will be expanding

the number of sites open for summer

meals. We must spread the word to schools,

parks and recreation departments, libraries,

and faith and other community organizations

across the nation; their participation is critical

for the continued success of SFSP. The deadlines

to become Summer Food Service Program

sponsors vary by State, and begin as

early as April 15.

Program sponsors oversee and provide

meals to summer sites. In return, USDA,

through the States, reimburses program sponsors

for the meals served to children.

I’m sure it comes as no surprise when I say

that galvanizing hundreds of faith-based

groups, civic groups, recreation centers, food

banks, schools, other non-profit organizations,

and volunteers takes time, effort and commitment

on all sides.

For any community that treasures its youth

(and I haven’t met one that doesn’t), we must

organize now to fight hunger this summer.

If you or your organization is interested in

helping us reduce the risk of hunger among

our nation’s youth, visit our website, www.summerfood.

usda.gov.

The summer meals outreach toolkit includes

sample outreach plans, templates, customizable

flyers, door hangers, letters to parents,

examples of site activities, best practices, and

more. State representatives are also available

to answer questions and facilitate sponsor

enrollment and site registration. This year,

let’s work together to make sure every child in

our great nation has a hunger-free summer.

Kevin Concannon, U.S. Department of

Agriculture undersecretary for food,

nutrition and consumer services

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