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April 6, 2014

CONCANNON: Summer shouldn't mean hunger for our nation's children

As a child, I always looked forward to the care-free joy of summertime. I remember the long days of playing outside at a nearby park until I needed to come home for lunch. Unfortunately, many of our nation’s children do not experience the simple joys of summer. In fact, far too many are left worrying where their next breakfast or lunch will come from when schools are dismissed for summer break.

During the school year, about 31 million American children receive school meals through the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program every day. About 21 million of those children receive meals at a discounted rate or for free, based on their family’s income. When summer rolls around, though, only about 3.5 million of these children participate in USDA’s summer meals programs.

That means millions of eligible low-income children are at risk of going hungry during the summer months. And we know that to thrive and reach their highest potential, children need good nutrition all year long.

USDA’s Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) is working to fill this hunger gap for children who qualify for free and reduced price meals during the school year. The program serves free healthy meals to eligible children ages 18 and under, and is made possible through the efforts of national, state, and local partners, including a cadre of energized volunteers.

While USDA has worked to increase access to summer meals for low-income children for many years, SFSP began receiving priority attention in 2013. Last summer, USDA employed a new tactic of working with partners to deliver intensive, targeted technical assistance on SFSP in five states. The result was a historic increase in the number of meals served, nationwide — 7 million more than the previous year! We hope to continue building on last year’s successes with our state and local partners in 2014, and move closer to closing the summer hunger gap.

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