June 12, 2012
On last Sunday’s Tony Award Broadcast, Audra McDonald sang the Gershwin hit, “Summertime”
And the livin’ is easy
Fish is jumpin’
And the cotton is high
Oh, your daddy’s rich
and your mamma’s good lookin’
So hush little baby
Don’t you cry.
But for a lot of children, summertime means life becomes more difficult. As schools let out for the summer, children who rely on school breakfast and lunch programs cannot rely on those two meals each day. As we posted last week, the Feeding America Map the Meal Gap project added child food insecurity to its map, and identified a disturbingly large area of the country where child food insecurity reaches more than 30%, and a distressingly small proportion where the food insecurity was less than 14%. As the New York Times reported last November, millions of children are now receiving free or reduced-cost lunches as once solidly middle class parents have lost jobs or homes during the economic crisis, qualifying their families for the decades-old safety-net program.
A number of communities have begun summer lunch bus programs where buses or food trucks bring nutritious meals to children in their neighborhoods. These programs operate in conjunction with the USDA’s Summer Food Service Program, and the programs operate in locations that range from some of the biggest cities to rural areas. There are buses in Chicago; Englewood and Denver, Colorado; Marin County, Kentucky in rural Appalachia, and even here in New Haven, Connecticut. But the SFSP relies on local community organizations and not-for-profit charities to implement the program in each community. So, although more than 21 million children receive free and reduced price school lunch, just over 3 million get summer meals.
As with so many issues related to poverty, it seems that the solution to summertime child hunger cannot be addressed by just government or the private sector alone, but requires partnerships between public and private, national and local, and not-for-profit and for-profit organizations to fully address the problem. USDA solicits help from local organizations through the Corporation for National and Community Service. Packaged foods giant ConAgra has partnered with Feeding America to provide grants to supplement and expand existing summer food programs in local communities. In other words, everyone needs to contribute to the solution, because no one sector can solve a problem this big and this basic. Find organizations in your local community and help make summertime a little easier.