Continuing USDA’s focus on childhood hunger during National Nutrition Month, Food and Nutrition Service Administrator Audrey Rowe this week announced the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) 2015 goal of serving 200 million meals to children and teens in low-income communities this summer – 14 million more than were served in 2014. During the school year, more than 21 million children rely on the nutritious, free and reduced priced meals provided by USDA’s National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs. USDA’s summer meal programs – which are often linked to summer enrichment programs – ensure that low-income children can receive nutritious food when school is out. This helps children stay healthy and be ready to learn when they return to school in the fall.
Nutrition assistance programs defend against hunger – ensuring the most vulnerable Americans have the energy they need to perform at work and at school. Children are particularly vulnerable to hunger and poor nutrition especially when school is out. Through the summer meals program, millions of children and teens get a healthy meal or snack when school meals are not available.
Last summer, USDA set a goal of serving 10 million more meals than in the summer of 2013 through the two programs that comprise USDA’s summer meal programs: USDA’s Summer Food Service Program and the National School Lunch Program’s Seamless Summer Option. With the help of partners, elected officials and community leaders across the country, the goal was exceeded. About 11 million more meals were served for a total of 187 million meals provided in 2014 at over 50,000 sites throughout the summer. This represents a 6 percent increase in meals served nationally.
While the gap between the number of kids receiving free and reduced price meals during the school year and those receiving a meal in the summer has been narrowed, too many American children experience hunger in the summer. To continue to narrow the gap in 2015, USDA has selected 13 states with high levels of food insecurity to provide additional support in order to help improve participation in summer meals programs. These states include: Alabama, Illinois, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, Texas, Arizona, Kansas, Michigan, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Kentucky.
Administrator Rowe was joined by representatives from several faith-based, community, and government organizations to recognize the summer program’s 40th anniversary, lay out plans for reaching the 2015 goal, highlight successful approaches, and call on other community groups to support this vital program. The Administrator was joined by:
“Summer nutrition empowers children to go into the next school year energized and ready to learn. This year, there are tremendous opportunities for new and existing sponsors to get involved,” Administrator Rowe said. “USDA provides tools to help community groups learn new and innovative ways to reach eligible children, as well as provide services uniquely tailored to their communities. As we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the summer meals program, we are confident that the program will continue to serve as a fundamental instrument in addressing summer hunger.”
Summer Meals programs utilize public-private partnerships, allowing communities to take the lead role in preventing hunger and focus their efforts in areas with the greatest need. The key to reaching more low-income children during the summer is expanding the number of locations available for feeding children. Community partners are needed to serve as sponsors of sites or to run sites that are accessible to young people for a healthy meal or snack, as well as physical activity and enrichment activities. The deadlines to become a summer meal sponsor vary by state, and begin as early as Apr. 15.
USDA continues to work with First Lady Michelle Obama on the Let’s Move! initiative, which is helping to promote healthy eating and physical activity and supports the health of American families. Through the combined efforts of USDA and its partners, the United States is beginning to see progress and improvements in the health of our Nation’s children.
USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service oversees the administration of 15 nutrition assistance programs, including the Summer Food Service Program, the National School Lunch Program, and other child nutrition programs, that touch the lives of one in four Americans over the course of a year. These programs work in concert to form a national safety net against hunger. Visit www.fns.usda.gov for information about FNS and nutrition assistance programs.