Many children whose schools provide their only dependable source of nutritious meals go hungry during the summer when school is out. That needs to change.
According to the Food Research and Action Center, only one out of seven children who receive free or reduced-price lunches at school participates in a summer meal program. While the available data is limited, experts believe many children go hungry during the summer.
To help fill the summer meal void, the federal government provides food to the states that is distributed at feeding sites in cities and suburbs. But not all of the 160,000 children eligible locally are showing up to eat, according to the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger. It said that on an average day, about 53 percent, or 86,000 children, don’t get a summer meal.
The problem is often worse in the suburbs, where there are fewer programs and it can be more difficult for children to get transportation to a feeding site.
Nationally, 2.8 million children participated in the federal Summer Food Service Program last year. That was only a small fraction of the children who received a free or reduced-price lunch during the preceding school year.
A Food Research and Action Center study showed about 21 of every 100 Pennsylvania children who eat free or reduced-price school lunches received free summer meals last year.
Those numbers are better than the national average, but there is still a void for struggling families accustomed to their children receiving a nutritious meal at school. For some children, lunch at school may be their only hot meal of the day.
Of course, one way to address the problem would be to replace American schools’ antiquated calendar and shorten summer recess. Not only would fewer children go hungry, but the educational gap in which they forget much of what they learned during the school year would be closed.
While it seems clear that additional programs are needed to feed children, it is also important for parents to be better informed about where help is available. They know hunger doesn’t take a summer vacation.
This editorial appeared in Tuesday’s Philadelphia Inquirer.