Summer is upon us and for many this means carefree days of fun in the sun. However, for the more than two million Texas children who rely on school meals as their primary source of nutrition, summer means they lose access to these programs and the guarantee of food that will allow them to lead healthy, active lives.
Texas currently has the fifth-highest rate of child food insecurity in the country, meaning that 1.8 million children don’t know where their next meal will come from, especially during the summer months. More than one in four Texas children are at risk of hunger. How is this possible in a state with plenty of resources to feed all of our children?
Of the nearly 2.5 million children who qualify for free or reduced-price school lunch, only 9 percent—around 200,000—also participate in the Summer Food Service Program, better know as the summer meals program. While the summer meals program is one of the most complex social services to implement, we can do better and owe it to the children of our state. Through public-private collaboration that includes federal, state and local government leaders, as well as nonprofits, faith communities, the business sector and parents, we can make considerable progress.
The Texas Hunger Initiative, a statewide anti-hunger project within the Baylor University School of Social Work, is committed to turning around these alarming statistics. In partnership with Share Our Strength—the nation’s leading child anti-hunger organization—we recently launched the Texas No Kid Hungry campaign with the goal of increasing children’s participation in nutrition programs offered in Texas. By identifying barriers to summer meals participation and convening the necessary parties that can work together to overcome these challenges, the summer meals program can succeed.
The main barriers are lack of awareness about the program, lack of access to summer meals sites and not enough feeding sites to meet the growing need. The Texas Hunger Initiative, along with many partner organizations, is working with local summer meals sponsors to implement new and creative recruiting methods to increase awareness and to recruit more summer feeding sites. Our goal is to increase summer meals participation by the end of summer by 9 percent, which equates to 19,000 children served daily, as well as to add 50 meals sites throughout the state.
This summer, parents can dial 211 to find feeding sites in their neighborhoods. Feeding sites are located in high-need areas and all children under the age of 18 in these areas are welcome to receive a meal.
Not only are our children going hungry during the summer, but Texas, which faces serious budget challenges like many other states, missed out on $47 million in 2010 because of low participation in the summer meals program. Texas Hunger Initiative efforts that will increase low-income children’s access to food over the summer will also bring much-needed federal funding to the state.
Feeding our neediest and hungriest children during the summer months is a win-win on many levels, so let’s band together and make it happen.
Jeremy K. Everett M. Div. is the Director of The Texas Hunger Initiative, a project of the Baylor University School of Social Work.