Summer is here, with time for relaxation for many. But for millions of needy children across the United States, it is the summer months when they are most vulnerable to hunger.
During the school year children have access to the federal school lunch and breakfast programs. This is a major safety net for families who need a little help to get by during tough times. When school is out these meals sadly disappear for many.
The Food Research and Action Center states that “for every seven low-income students who depended on the National School Lunch Program during the regular 2011-2012 school year, only one child received summer meals in July 2012.”
Some U.S. counties do not even have a summer feeding site. So there is a huge gap in the U.S. child feeding program that will need innovation from both the public and the government to fill. In Cincinnati, Ohio, for example, public libraries are helping out as locations for distributing summer meals. More summer feeding sites, or other delivery methods, need to be established and there has to be adequate funding.
Summer meals for children are also missing in Haiti, where food is desperately needed. Drought and a series of storms have damaged food production in an already impoverished country. The UN World Food Programme, which depends on voluntary funding, did not receive enough to provide summer feeding in Haiti nor a program for take-home rations to help needy families.
The U.S. McGovern-Dole global school meals program is helping in Haiti as well as in other countries including Mali and Afghanistan, but it needs to be expanded. Unfortunately, funding for McGovern-Dole is at risk as members of Congress are threatening cuts to food aid. This despite the fact that food aid makes up less than one tenth of one percent of the federal budget.
The program was named after the two former senators, George McGovern and Bob Dole, who during World War II witnessed the devastating effect of hunger on children and understood the importance of these initiatives in the global scene.
We should expect our representatives in Congress to make feeding the hungry overseas a top foreign policy priority.
Summer meals, both here at home and abroad, should be for all children. It’s a real test of our character as a society: Do we care for the next generation and give it a helping hand?
In the United States you can call 1-866-3-HUNGRY or 1-877-8-HAMBRE (for Spanish speakers) to find the closest summer feeding sites or visit www.whyhunger.org/findfood.