For a lot of us, summer means family vacations, summer camps and lots of in-season fruits and vegetables. For others, summer brings heightened uncertainties about how to feed their children.
A predominant strategy to prevent child hunger when school is out is summer meal programs, the largest one being the Summer Food Service Program administered by the state Department of Education. Like the national school lunch and breakfast programs, it provides reimbursement for meals served to children at community locations (e.g., schools, churches, community centers, libraries) during the summer.
NATIONAL NEWS: At summer lunch programs, schools see hungry parents, too
Unfortunately, summer meal programs are far from reaching all the children in our state who need them. In 2015, only one out of five low-income children participated.
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A 2012-2013 survey by USC’s Arnold School of Public Health of close to 550 caregivers found that potential participants had never heard of the program or did not know where a site near them was located. Many families also did not have access to reliable transportation.
End Child Hunger SC has brought together schools, parents and other organizations to increase the number of sites available, make sure that enrichment programming is offered along with the meals, improve ways to get children to sites and food to children, and increase awareness.
This past week, End Child Hunger SC hosted a summer meals tour in Richland County; this week, the tour will be in Lexington and Newberry counties. Elected officials, community members, funders, police officers and even Mason from the Fireflies visited meal sites and see them in action. We hope the tours will help us foster advocates for eliminating child hunger in our state.
We are making progress, but need to do more. We need to continue letting people know about the program and sites close to them, improve the appeal and quality of meals by ensuring that sponsors purchase food from local farmers and explore other ways to reach families with children, especially in rural locations, such as through summer EBT cards.
Director of Policy and Partnership Development
USC Center for Research in Nutrition and Health Disparities