Free summer meals help reduce child hunger in Indiana when school is out

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HUNGER IS A foreign concept to children who have access to free school breakfast and lunch programs. But according to the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), in summer when school is out, many children miss out on the nutrition they need.

Too many children in Indiana are missing out on the nutrition they need during the summer months when the school year — and access to school breakfast and lunch — come to an end, according to a new report released by the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC). Hunger Doesn’t Take a Vacation: Summer Nutrition Status Report finds that 68,609 children received a summer lunch on an average weekday in July 2018, a 13.5 percent decrease from July 2017. Indiana served just 16 children for every 100 low-income children who received free and reduced-price school lunch.

Nationally, 2.9 million children, or only 1 in 7 of the low-income children who participated in school lunch during the 2017–2018 school year, received a summer lunch on an average weekday in July 2018.

“Low-income children miss out on more than just food when summer meals are not available to them,” said Emily Weikert Bryant, executive director of Feeding Indiana’s Hungry.“Many summer meal sites offer educational and enrichment programming, which, combined with meals, helps reduce food insecurity and summer learning loss for children.”

In Indiana, healthy free summer meals are provided at local sites such as schools, parks, camps, recreation centers, libraries, YMCAs, Boys & Girls Clubs, and churches for children ages 18 and under.

The Child Nutrition Reauthorization, currently being considered by Congress, provides an important opportunity to increase participation in summer meals. FRAC and Feeding Indiana’s Hungry are advocating for the inclusion of provisions in the reauthorization to allow communities with substantial but less concentrated poverty — often in rural and suburban areas — to provide summer meals; reduce red tape by allowing sponsors of meal sites to provide food year-round through the Summer Food Service Program (rather than operating this program in the summer and another during the school year); and allow all sites to serve three meals — currently only camps and sites serving migrant children can serve three meals.

Significant federal, state, and local investments also must be made to support the underlying programs that provide a platform for summer meals; such investments would ensure there are enough affordable summer programs where low-income children can go to eat, learn, and be active during the summer in a safe environment.

“We know that the need for summer meals and affordable, high quality summer programs far exceeds their availability,” said Bryant. “Our member food banks are working with our partners, including the USDA, state and local agencies, and anti-hunger organizations to redouble our efforts to increase access to the Summer Nutrition Programs.”

About FRAC’s Hunger Doesn’t Take a Vacation Reports

The Summer Nutrition Status Report measures participation in the Summer Nutrition Programs in July 2018 in absolute numbers and by comparing the number of children receiving summer meals to the number of low-income children receiving school lunch during the regular school year, nationally and in each state. The regular school year is used as a benchmark because such a high proportion of low-income children eat school lunch on regular school days. The Summer Breakfast Report similarly measures the reach of breakfast through the Summer Nutrition Programs in July 2018, nationally and in each state.

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