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Healthy Students, Healthy Schools, Cultivating Communities of Wellness

Dr. Kevin Concannon (left), Undersecretary, Food Consumer and Nutrition Services,  Dr. Elizabeth Hagen (center), Undersecretary, Food Safety and Emily Wise (right), a fifth grade student at Maryland City Elementary School in Laurel, MD, discuss the plants native to Maryland that will be going into the school garden. Undersecretary Concannon and Undersecretary Hagen were at Maryland City Elementary for the USDA, Food Safety Inspection Service, Food Safety Education Camp on Thursday, May 5, 2011. USDA Photo by  Bob Nichols.

Kevin Concannon (left), Under Secretary, Food Consumer and Nutrition Services, Dr. Elisabeth Hagen (center), Under Secretary for Food Safety and Emily Wise (right), a fifth grade student at Maryland City Elementary School in Laurel, MD, discuss the plants native to Maryland that will be going into the school garden. Undersecretary Concannon and Undersecretary Hagen were at Maryland City Elementary for the USDA, Food Safety Inspection Service, Food Safety Education Camp on Thursday, May 5, 2011. USDA Photo by Bob Nichols.

For most kids, summer vacation means picnics, parks and play. But for some children, summer vacation can, unfortunately, mean going hungry. Anne Arundel County Public Schools in Maryland understand this harsh reality and have taken steps to keep children fed during the summer months.

This week Under Secretary for Food Safety, Elisabeth Hagen and I visited one of their schools, Maryland City Elementary in Laurel, to help announce their plan to offer free meals through USDA’s Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) to all neighborhood kids, ages 2-18. What a fantastic way to alleviate hunger and strengthen the overall health of their community.  The SFSP is, designed to do just that, fill the nutrition gap during summer, by providing children free meals and snacks at registered feeding sites.

Did you know that during the regular school year, at least 20 million children or more nationwide receive free and reduced-priced meals through the National School Lunch Program?  Yet little more than 3 million kids are fed in our summer programs — not very good statistics. But we continue to work to increase those numbers.  This summer, Let’s Move! Faith and Communities (part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative) is working with partners to host new feeding sites at congregations and neighborhood organizations.

Dr. Kevin Concannon, Undersecretary, Food Consumer and Nutrition Services explains the importance of good nutrition and exercise to students at Maryland City Elementary School in Laurel, MD, during a United States Department of Agriculture, Food Safety Inspection Service, Food Safety Education Camp  on Thursday, May 5, 2011.  USDA Photo by Bob Nichols.

Kevin Concannon, Under Secretary, Food Consumer and Nutrition Services explains the importance of good nutrition and exercise to students at Maryland City Elementary School in Laurel, MD, during a United States Department of Agriculture, Food Safety Inspection Service, Food Safety Education Camp on Thursday, May 5, 2011. USDA Photo by Bob Nichols.

USDA is also funding numerous pilot projects in several states to test new ways to feed hungry children during summer. All of these efforts move us closer to our goal to end childhood hunger in this country – a goal I know we all can share and work towards together.  Summer months are critical; make no mistake, because hunger leaves children susceptible to illness and other health issues that make it harder for them to learn when school begins again.

So we have to act now to ensure that our most vulnerable children are fed during summer so they too can grow up nutritionally healthy, academically strong, and best able to fulfill their dreams.   Healthy Students, Healthy Schools, Cultivating Communities of Wellness was the theme of the event at Maryland City Elementary. The county’s supervisor for Food and Nutrition Services, Jodi Risse, was instrumental in getting Maryland City Elementary and Hilltop Elementary in Glen Burnie to offer community feeding this summer.  Her hope this summer is to double the number of children served and she said it best, “to keep our kids fed, nourished and ready to learn when they come back to school next year.”

Please follow USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service on Twitter for the latest on ending hunger and nutrition assistance programs.

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