Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Free Summer Meals: More Than A Free Lunch

Hunger doesn’t take a vacation when school lets out! As a result, the summer months are a critical time to provide low-income children, who depend on the free and reduced price breakfast and lunch programs during the school year, with nutritious food.  The D.C.Free Summer Meals program not only fills the nutrition gap for children under eighteen years of age, but also generates significant amount of federal dollars for summer youth education and recreation programs. This summer, the District is on track to provide 1.3 million meals and bring over $3 million dollars in federal funding. 

On top of combating hunger the D.C. Free Summer Meals program also helps to combat obesity. More and more children in the United States and in the District are becoming obese—and overweight children tend to  continue this trend into adulthood. Children gain weight three times faster during the summer months, gaining as much weight during the summer as they do during the entire school year, even though the summertime is three times shorter. This is due in large part to the inactivity many children and youth experience over the summer months, but nutrition contributes to this as well. When kids have limited healthy options at home, they go for the cheap stuff (think chips, sugary drinks, candy bars) and their health is clearly affected.

D.C. Free Summer Meals has been ranked the best summer food  program in the country for seven consecutive years for reaching the highest percentage of low-income children. Despite this fact, many more District children could benefit from the summer meal program. We know that healthy young people are the foundation of engaged young people and this applies as much during the summer as it does during the school year.By creating opportunities to provide children with healthy food, physical activity, and educational enrichment, children can continue to learn and stay safe when school is not in session. There are over 160 “open’ sites throughout the district, meaning children come to the site and receive a free meal without prior registration. This is an invaluable resource in fighting hunger here in the District, but also in supporting the development of young people year round.

Special thanks to Alyia-Smith Parker from DC Hunger Solutions for contributing to this post!

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