Last week, about 250 Ohio lawmakers, educators, nonprofit directors, community leaders and others came together at the Mid-Ohio Foodbank for the third annual statewide Summer Food Service Summit. The focus of this summit was USDA’s Summer Food Service Program, as efforts are ramping up to ensure that all eligible children have access to healthy meals this summer.
In Ohio, over 630,000 children receive free or reduced-price school meals (based on family income) through the National School Lunch Program during the school year. Yet, only about 60,000—less than one in ten–participate in the Summer Food Service Program. This means that well over half a million children across the state may be at risk of food insecurity or hunger during the summer months, when they no longer have access to meals at school.
The Summer Food Service Program is designed to close this nutrition gap by providing free, healthy meals to children from low-income households during the summer months. I am proud of the work going on in Ohio and the important commitments state partners have been making to ensure children in need can avoid hunger this summer.
The risk of food insecurity and hunger among children is not unique to Ohio. Of the 21 million children nationwide who receive free and reduced-priced meals during the school year, only 3.5 million participate in summer meal programs. That is why USDA is focusing priority attention on summer meals. Let’s roll up our sleeves and get our systems in place to reach more of these eligible children this summer. Consider this a call to action!
Last year, USDA and partner efforts led to a historic increase of 7 million more meals served throughout the summer. We are proud of this progress and hope to see an even bigger increase in 2014. The summer hunger gap is still far too wide.
The key to success this year will be expanding the number of sites open for summer meals. We must spread the word to schools, parks and recreation departments, libraries, and faith and other community organizations across the nation; their participation is critical for the continued success of SFSP. The deadlines to become Summer Food Service Program sponsors vary by State, and begin as early as April 15. Program sponsors oversee and provide meals to summer sites. In return, USDA, through the States, reimburses program sponsors for the meals served to children.
If you or your organization is interested in helping us reduce the risk of hunger among our nation’s youth, visit our website, www.summerfood.usda.gov. The summer meals outreach toolkit includes sample outreach plans, templates, customizable flyers, door hangers, letters to parents, examples of site activities, best practices, and more. State representatives are also available to answer questions and facilitate sponsor enrollment and site registration.
Join us now in working together to make sure that this year every child has access to safe and healthy meals during the summer months.