How to feed children when school meals end for summer vacation

The nonprofit Feeding America is working to expand summer food access to millions of low-income children. 

Matt York/AP/File
Children eat a free lunch at the Phoenix Day @ Central Park Youth Program in downtown Phoenix in July 2014.

Nearly 22 million low-income children receive free or reduced-priced meals during the school year through the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), according to the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC). FRAC’s annual summer meals report, however, found that only one in six of these children receives summer meals through the two federal summer nutrition programs—the NSLP Seamless Summer Option and the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Summer Food Service Program (SFSP).

The nonprofit Feeding America is working to expand summer food access to millions of low-income children. Feeding America believes that the “gap of one in six summer to school-time participants is the result of various barriers experienced only during the summer, including a lack of access to meal sites, insufficient program awareness, and limited resources when schools are closed.” Feeding America utilizes their nationwide network of food banks to combat these barriers and enact nutritious summer food service programs.

Their summer interventions include:

  • Kids Cafes: volunteers provide free meals and snacks to low-income children at various community locations such as Boys & Girls Clubs and churches
  • BackPack Programs: food banks assemble bags of food and distribute them to low-income children
  • School Pantry Programs: schools designate a location on their campuses where low-income children and their families can pick up food  

Feeding America is also committed to strengthening the federal summer nutrition programs. The Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act authorizes these summer programs, in addition to several other child nutrition programs. Congress must reauthorize this Act every five years, but the programs’ operation does not require reauthorization. Rather, reauthorization enables Congress to strengthen and improve access to the programs. The last reauthorization—the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010—expired in September 2015. Feeding America is currently fighting for a reauthorization that would strengthen all federal nutrition programs, including those that operate during the summer.

According to FRAC’s overview of Child Nutrition Reauthorization, in January 2016, the Senate Agriculture Committee passed its reauthorization, which included a strengthened SFSP. However, in April 2016, the House Education and Workforce Committee released a reauthorization with no such improvements. Feeding America is currently working to make sure that the full House and Senate pass a strong bill that includes major improvements to the federal summer nutrition programs.

Feeding America provides several resources to help us tell Congress about the need for a strong child nutrition bill. Their website also has a Food Bank Locator, if you would like to learn more about your local food bank’s summer strategies. 

Allyn is a Research and Communications Intern with Food Tank for the summer of 2016. A rising senior at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., Allyn is majoring in Health Policy with a concentration on food and nutrition policy. She has a passion for food systems reform and believes in the integral role of policy in achieving such reform. She is particularly interested in childhood obesity prevention and the alleviation of childhood hunger. This summer, while working with Food Tank, she will be in London and Amsterdam completing a public health fellowship.

This article originally appeared on Food Tank.

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