Hunger is a real problem for many local area school children. Especially during summer time, when school is out. According to the latest figures from the United States Department of Agriculture, nearly 17 million children in the United States will go hungry during the summer months.
Because of these staggering statistics, the USDA is promoting the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). The SFSP program is in its 43rdyear of existence and has served over a hundred million children since its inception.
The program provides free nutritious meals and snacks for children who live in low-income areas during the summer time and for students who experience longer vacations during the school year as a result of being on a year-round schedule.
The meals are provided at area schools, churches, recreation centers, camps, playgrounds and other community host sites.
USDA Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is promoting the program to a great degree.
“When it comes to our children, we must do everything possible to provide them the nutrition needed to be healthy, active and ready to win the future,” said Vilsack. “But we also recognize that government cannot address this challenge alone, which is why this week we join our valued partners to raise awareness about the nutrition gap low-income children face when school is out of session. Working together, government, non-profit and faith-based organizations, as well as the public, can make sure children have access to nutritious food year round.”
In Dallas, making sure children are fed adequately is a priority for many.
In fact, Texas is one of the top five states that have the highest rate of food insecurity for children. Due to this statistic, the Dallas County cities, like Garland, is hosting its 16th annual Summer Nutrition Program in order to provide free meals such as lunch and snacks to local kids who may not otherwise get a good, nutritious meal during this time.
Pamela Harris, Program Coordinator for the Garland Summer Nutrition Program for the City, said the Summer Nutrition Program fills the gap for kids who would not get a regular meal during the summer time when school is out.
“It supplements a meal for children that are on the reduced lunch program during the school year,” Harris said. “There is no registration and no qualifier for the program. Kids can show up to one of our 23 facilities in Garland that serve meals.”
When children are in school, they have access to breakfast and lunch through federal programs like the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program, but there is a significant gap in participation for programs that feed children when they are not in school, especially during long breaks such as summer.
“With the current economic situation we are in, everybody’s budget is really tight and parents need all the help they can get,” Harris said.
The Garland program began on June 6thand will run until August 5th.
The Fair Housing Office of Garland is sponsoring its 16thyear of the Summer Nutrition Program. The theme for the 2011 Summer Nutrition Program is the 3 E’s of Healthy Living which include: Education, Exercise and Eating Right.
This program provides free, nutritious meals to children ages one through 18. There are no other qualifications and there is no registration.
“We have a high percentage of food insecurity for kids,” Harris said. “We also have a high obesity rate. Kids are eating the wrong things and it has led to higher diseases like diabetes.”
Harris said that in order to offer this program, the USDA looks for certain things like how much of the area is on a reduced lunch program during the year. If 50 percent of the student population in a district is on a reduced lunch program, then they qualify for things like the Summer Nutrition Program.
“Currently, more than 50 percent of our elementary schools in the area are on a reduced or free lunch program during the school year,” Harris said. “The parents are really appreciative of the fact that we are providing this for them.”
Harris said the only setback the program has encountered is running out of food during a day.
“Since we require no registration, we never know how many students will show up or how much to prepare,” Harris said. “It’s good in one way so that we never waste food.”
Harris said it is important to run programs like these so we will have children who can lead us in the future.
“Doing this is a labor of love for many of us,” Harris said. “We are in a financial crisis in this economy right now so that is why we need to take care of our kids so that they will have a healthy mind and body so they can be ready for the school year.”
Most sites provide breakfast, lunch, and snacks. There are also some educational and fun programs for the kids to enjoy during their visit to the sites.
To find out where you can get a meal for your children, call the National Hunger Hotline at 1-866-3-Hungry or 1-877-8-Hambre.
“After all, these kids are our future,” she said.