When School Is Out, Hunger Comes To Visit

Photo: A child using the "Bike Blender" at a summer feeding program sponsored by Redwood Empire Food Bank.

After a brutal winter, summer has finally arrived. While everyone is surely thrilled, America's children are probably the most excited of all. Summer means they can shed the confines of the classroom for days of popsicles, sun and freedom.

For most kids, it's the best time of the year. But sadly, not for all.

In America today, nearly 16 million children face hunger -- that's 1 in every 5. For these kids, summer doesn't always bring excitement. Instead, it brings the threat of hunger. During the school year, millions of kids have access to free and reduced lunch and breakfast. When school is out, however, those meals aren't there and many parents wonder how they will stretch their already-thin budgets to feed their families.

Fortunately, the Feeding America network of food banks does not take a summer break. Across America, food banks work hard to employ innovative strategies to get more food to more children when they need it most.

Redwood Empire Food Bank (REFB) in Santa Rosa, Calif., is one of those food banks. Last summer alone, REFB served more than 80,000 meals to kids in need. The food bank partners with parks and recreation programs, Boys and Girls clubs, local churches and more to feed kids during the summer. Not only do they feed kids, but they make sure kids get healthy foods to which they might not otherwise have access get kids excited about the foods through creative activities.

For example, creating "scissor salsa" is one of REFB's most popular activities. Scissor salsa is just what it sounds like -- salsa kids can make by cutting vegetables with scissors. REFB also gives children the opportunity to create smoothies using its "bike blender" and to grow their own lettuce by creating "lettuce heads" with construction paper, scissors, a planter and lettuce seeds.

Several states over, Feeding America food banks in Indiana are fighting summer hunger in equally creative ways. Food Finders Food Bank in Lafayette uses dietetic interns from nearby Purdue to teach children about healthy eating while providing them with lunch. Gleaners Food Bank -- located in Indianapolis -- uses school buses to bring lunch to kids in low-income communities. The buses travel to communities that traditionally have low attendance at immobile summer feeding sites. In Hanover, Indiana, for example, Gleaners sponsored a site where only one child would show up for lunch. When the bus visits this same community, more than 30 kids are waiting to hop on and eat a meal they might otherwise have not received.

Gleaners, Redwood Empire and Food Finders are just a few Feeding America member food banks that employ innovative strategies to reach children in the summer. Each of the more than 200 food banks in our network help feed children in need, like Wenona, a 9-year-old who attends a Food Finders' summer program. "My mom struggles, and sometimes she has to go without food and other things so my sister and I can eat three meals," said Wenona. "I know this food helps me and a lot of kids in need."

Summer should never bring the threat of hunger for a child. Working together, we can develop more ways to get food to children during the summer months. Together, we can solve hunger, and make sure every child across America is eating enough to enjoy summer - happy, healthy and hunger-free.

Visit feedingamerica.org to find your local food bank and learn more about how you can fight child hunger where you live.

Cisco support for a new transportation management system streamlined services for a network of 200 member food banks for a projected savings of US$1.5 million over 5 years or 12 million meals. For more information, visit: http://csr.cisco.com/pages/feeding-america