The summer of 2013 was an encouraging one for the Summer Nutrition Programs. Last summer marked the first significant increase in the number of low-income students participating in summer meal programs in a decade. A new report released by the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) finds that summer meal participation nationally reached nearly three million students on an average day in July of 2013, up 161,000 children or 5.7 percent from 2012.
This national increase in children eating summer meals provides welcome momentum for the Summer Nutrition Programs, and a safety net for struggling families. Each year, when the school year comes to a close, millions of low-income children lose access to the school meals they rely on during the academic year. Providing adequate nutrition during the summer, along with structured activities often held in conjunction with the meals served, helps prevent learning loss and allows students to stay healthy and active so they return to school in the fall ready to learn.
USDA continues to promote the program through its “Summer Food Rocks” campaign, including the launch of a free web-based application that features a site locator and search tool, and works on devices such as iPads, iPhones, Blackberrys, and Androids. Michigan families can also look for the Meet Up & Eat Up signs that indicates that that site participates in serving free summer meals, or they can call 211 to locate a site in their community.
ELECTED OFFICIALS: Everyone can help increase awareness and participation in summer meals. Elected officials can speak up about Summer Nutrition Programs and get the word out to their constituents by posting information about summer food on their websites or sharing in their newsletters. They can visit summer meal sites in their districts, and work with partners to increase the number of sites where children can go for summer meals.
SCHOOLS: Everyone can help increase awareness and participation in summer meals. School districts can sponsor summer meal sites at their schools throughout the summer, open these sites to the surrounding communities, work with partners in the community to ensure there are enough sites, or even contract with local sponsors to vend meals to them. Another important action school districts can take is to let parents know about the Summer Nutrition Programs and where nearby sites are located so that they can take their children to them.
PARKS: Everyone can help increase awareness and participation in summer meals. Local parks departments can become sponsors of the programs and set up their meal sites at their parks and local community centers. Parks are great places for summer meal sites because they provide outdoor space for physical activities and a variety of enrichment programs.