The City of Brotherly Love puts its motto into practice. I saw this firsthand when I travelled to Philadelphia to meet with a network of community leaders who partner with USDA through its Summer Food Service Program. With this program, USDA subsidizes nutritious summer lunches for students who need them and works with community partners to deliver those meals.
In Philadelphia, about 22% of children live in households that have trouble putting enough food on the table for every member of the family. That means when school is out, and school meals are not available, many kids are vulnerable. The Summer Food Service Program plays a critical role in making sure kids have access to nutritious meals so that they can begin the school year well nourished and alert. My friend and former director of the White House’s Office of Faith Based and Community Initiatives during the George W. Bush Administration, Professor John DiIulio, invited me to Philadelphia where he currently works at the University of Pennsylvania’s Fox Leadership Program.
The Fox Leadership Program’s mission is to equip and encourage undergraduates to be public-spirited, results-oriented leaders. The program’s service component offers a variety of opportunities for student engagement, including an option at the Philadelphia Archdiocese’s Nutritional Development Services (NDS). NDS has over 450 sites providing summer meals to kids through USDA’s Summer Food Service Program. This summer, I had the opportunity to visit one of the NDS sites, the Salvation Army’s Learning Zone. There, more than 100 kids were enjoying nutritious food, a safe environment, and fun in the site’s gymnasium. During the summer of 2012, they served over 875,000 free summer meals and worked diligently to dramatically increase those numbers this past summer.
Americans can be proud of the fact that programs like the Summer Food Service Program have strong support across administrations, and we can learn a great deal from the success of partnerships like the ones in Philadelphia. As we prepare for the summer of 2014, we will look to networks like this one to inspire and to challenge us.