18-Day Food Drought Exacerbates Childhood Hunger
Childhood hunger does not take a summer vacation and becomes much worse for 13.1 million children struggling to find their next meal in the United States. In Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania and many cities across the country, children who normally receive a free or reduced lunch during the school year will experience an 18-day food draught which exacerbates childhood hunger in June.
What would you do for 18 days if you were child without food?
The 18-day food draught is the result of a gap between the end of the School Nutrition Programs (National School Lunch & Breakfast Programs) and the start of the Summer Feeding Program. To compound the problem, food donations are also at an all-time low for food pantries during the summer months.
Hunger occurs 365 days out of the year and is not limited to the holidays.
Unfortunately, only 1 in 6 children who participate in school nutrition programs utilize the summer feeding program for a variety of reasons. The biggest barrier to summer meals is that there are 2 school meal programs for every summer meal program. In addition, many summer programs close or open later in the summer because they have limited staff. Other barriers include transportation and lack of knowledge of programs.
4 Tips to improve access to summer nutrition programs and fight childhood hunger:
1| Know the Location of a Local Summer Meal Program
All children who are 18 years and under can received a free lunch at a Summer Meals Program. To find a site near you, visit Summer Food Rocks.
2| Find Your Local Food Pantry
The absence of free and reduced school lunches in the summer can increase grocery bills by a couple hundred dollars a month. To help manage your food budget, find a local food pantry by visiting Feeding America.
3| Donate Food All Year Long (especially during the summer)
The best food to donate to a local food pantry include canned vegetables, peanut butter, canned meats, pasta, pasta sauce, macaroni and cheese, beans, and rice. Toiletries are great bonus items and include: feminine hygiene products, diapers, shampoo, soap, toothbrushes, tooth paste, deodorant, toilet paper and laundry detergent. To learn how to donate healthier food options, visit Give Healthy.
4| Know other Food Resources
There are many local grass-root efforts to fight childhood hunger. For example, Dinner for Kids is an organization that delivers hot meals to children in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. You can also reach out to neighboring churches, even if you are not a member and ask for help.
While food insecurity impacts everyone’s health negatively, it is particularly crushing to children. Nourishing foods are critical to a child’s mental, emotional, and physical development.
If we are serious about ending childhood hunger in the United States and improving the health of our next generation, we must dismantle the barriers and stigma associated with food assistance programs. We must shift the way we individually and collectively think and talk about hunger in the United States.