Earlier this summer, I had the opportunity to see the many happy faces of children playing on the recreational fields of the Western Sussex Boys & Girls Club in Seaford, Del. They were there as part of a Summer Food Service Program showcasing USDA’s Eat Smart. Play Hard Campaign. It was easy to get caught up in the excitement generated by the Power Panther, the campaign’s mascot, as he danced through the crowd of more than 500 young people. And after enjoying face painting and organized games, the kids were able to relax and enjoy a healthy cook-out style meal.
When school lets out, millions of our nation’s children no longer have access to healthy school breakfast or lunches. Of the 21 million children who receive free and reduced-priced meals through the National School Lunch Program during the regular school year, only 3.5 million participate in summer meal programs. USDA’s summer meals programs aim to fill the hunger gap for our children, and by the looks of the impressive site in southern Delaware, they were meeting that goal.
According to the Food Research and Action Center, Delaware rated eighth in the country in 2013, reaching over 21 percent of the children who receive free and reduced price meals during the school year. Though Delaware provided more than 850,000 meals last year, there are so many more children in need that can be reached. I’m pleased to say that our partners at the Delaware Department of Education, Community Nutrition Programs, have approved 287 feeding sites just like this one around the state, representing a 35 percent increase over last summer. So, we are optimistic that even more children will receive these essential meals over the course of the summer.
Children need good nutrition all year long. Poor nutrition during the summer impacts children’s academic performance during the school year. Through USDA’s summer feeding programs, such as the Summer Food Service Program and the Seamless Summer Option of the National School Lunch Program, children get the nourishing food they need so they come back to school ready to learn.
I applaud the Delaware Department of Education, Community Nutrition Programs, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Delaware and members of these highly-engaged communities for supporting summer meals program. Thanks to the creative activities they’ve woven into their programs, young people stay active, interested, and eager to attend. It’s an important draw to our families and their children, because like us, they know hunger doesn’t take a summer vacation!