Nutrition programs for children are great during the school year but what happens when school doors close? Those programs offer critical nutritional support that helps kids stay focused on school, and keeps many in school, but when summer comes trouble begins.
USDA is reaching out to communities to help prevent the problem. Vilsack spoke on the issue during a roundtable with Josh Wachs, Chief Strategy Officer for Share Our Strength, Kathy Underhill, Executive Director of Hunger Free Colorado, and Harriett Phillips, Liaison to the Arkansas No Kid Hungry Campaign for Governor Mike Beebe. Vilsack reiterated the vital role of partners in reaching eligible children and their families and challenged them to help USDA serve 5 million more meals this summer.
In a press statement, Vilsack notes: "Children need healthy food all year long to grow and achieve to their highest ambitions. We know that when school lets out, millions of low-income children no longer get a healthy breakfast or lunch. USDA's summer meals program helps to fill that gap and is an invaluable investment in the future of America's children….I challenge our partners and communities across the nation to work with us to ensure that all children have access to healthy food during the summer months."
In order to reach more eligible children, USDA is providing intensive technical assistance to expand the reach of the program in five states with high levels of rural or urban food insecurity or historically low program participation rates, including Arkansas, California, Colorado, Rhode Island and Virginia. Arkansas, Colorado and Virginia are also states targeted by USDA's StrikeForce, an initiative designed to improve the quality of life and boost economic growth in high poverty rural areas.
USDA's summer meals programs operate through partnerships between USDA, state agencies and local organizations. Local sponsors, such as schools, local government agencies, faith-based and nonprofit community organizations, and residential and non-residential camps provide free meals and activities to eligible low-income children during the summer months. In 2012, USDA's partners served 144 million summer meals at 38,800 sites, feeding approximately 2.3 million children on a typical summer day. For more information on becoming a SFSP sponsor or site, visit www.fns.usda.gov/sfsp/. To find a site in your community, call 1-866-3-Hungry or 1-877-8-Hambre.