This week is National Summer Food Service Program Kickoff Week, an important time to emphasize USDA’s commitment to ensure children and teens have access to safe, nutritious meals when school lets out. Through the Summer Food Service Program, federal assistance is provided for state agencies and non-profit sponsors to help children in eligible high-need areas get the proper nutrition they need during the summer when schools are not in session.
Thanks to the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act, students across the country are getting healthier school meals with more whole grains, fruits and vegetables, lean protein and low-fat dairy, as well as less sugar, fat, and sodium. With more than 90 percent of schools meeting the healthy meal standards, children are getting the nutrition needed to reach their full potential. But poor nutrition during the summer months can also affect children’s academic performance during the school year. USDA’s summer feeding programs help children get the nourishing food they need all year long so they come back to school in the fall ready to learn.
For more than a decade, USDA has worked with partners and states to increase access to summer meals for children and our collaborative work is paying off for kids across the nation. In fact, last summer, a historic 7 million more meals were served to children in need than the previous year. This represents a huge win for parents and caretakers who may experience financial difficulty with providing additional meals for kids when school meals are not available.
This summer our challenge is to serve at least 10 million more meals. Admittedly, it is an aggressive goal. But it’s nothing we can’t handle with the dedicated help of our state and local partners and members of the public like you. We need all-hands-on-deck to spread the word about summer meals and to help children and teens find a site to access meals.
There are lots of ways to help us get the word out during summer kickoff week. The first is to participate in a kickoff event near you. Dr. Janey Thornton, the Deputy Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, will celebrate summer kickoff in Norfolk, Virginia along with Dorothy McAuliffe, the First Lady of Virginia, while Food and Nutrition Service Administrator Audrey Rowe is helping our partners in Rio Grande Valley, Texas and Kansas City, Missouri get their summer programs going. To find a summer kickoff event near you, please take a look at our SFSP Kickoff Event list. You can also highlight the National Hunger Hotline, 1-866-3-Hungry or 1-877-8-Hambre, which helps you find a summer meals site via telephone.
We’ve enjoyed tremendous support from our partners when it comes to making summer meals a success. Because of the NFL and Fuel Up to Play 60, the National Dairy Council’s in-school nutrition and physical activity program, many summer kickoff events will include current and retired NFL players. The NFL will also donate their official equipment for flag football games at specific summer meal sites to provide increased physical activity for children.
Other organizations such as Catholic Charities, Share our Strength, Food Research and Action Center, Why Hunger and countless others are also heavily involved to make this summer a success. To better support organizations serving as summer meals champions, we have developed state-targeted technical assistance and a new Summer Meals Toolkit to make sure state agencies, partners and sponsors have the resources available to run smoothly and effectively.
Teachers tell us that well-nourished kids return to school ready to learn. Nutritious summer meals work together with nutritious school meals to tackle childhood hunger year round.