Guest Column: USDA joins nation’s communities to feed children during summer meal gap
By Tim English
Midwest Regional Administrator for USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service
While their kids are exuberantly shouting, “School’s out!” many parents may be quietly worrying about how they’re going to feed their children this summer. The Department of Agriculture (USDA) wants to assure those moms, dads and caregivers that we can help.
All it takes is a phone call or a quick web search to find a Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) site where children 18 and younger can get a free meal during the summer months when schools are closed. The National Hunger Hotline (1-866-3-HUNGRY or 1-866-348-6479) provides locations of summer meal sites in your area. Callers need only give their ZIP code and the hotline operator can tell them where they can find a summer meal site nearby. This important information is also available in Spanish at 1-877-8-HAMBRE.
To better support organizations serving summer meals, last year, USDA developed state-targeted technical assistance so state agencies, partners and sponsors have the resources available to run smoothly and effectively. The result was a historic increase in the number of meals served nationwide — 7 million more than the previous year. We hope to build on last year’s success with our state and local partners in 2014 and make further strides toward closing the summer hunger gap.
Our challenge is to serve at least 10 million more meals this summer. I’m the first to admit this is an aggressive goal. But it’s nothing we can’t handle. With strong support from individuals, communities, state and local governments, and advocates nationwide, we can provide more children with nutritious meals during their time out of school.
We need to get the word out to help families, parents and children learn about the program and help them identify sites in their community. I highly encourage advocates and sponsoring organizations to distribute summer fliers and other outreach materials. To help with that, our new Summer Meals Toolkit includes templates for creating these promotional products. Our nation’s children deserve access to nutrition meals all year long. By ensuring children and families know where they can find meals in every community, we can reach our goal of serving 10 million more meals this summer. I promise, it’s a goal worth shouting about.
Posted June 13, 2014