A recent report has found a major gap exists between the number of children accessing the summer meals program nationwide, and the number of children who actually need it.
According to City Harvest, about 1.2 million New Yorkers face hunger every year, including one in five New York City children. NYC’s Summer Meals Program was created for lower-income families with limited access to food and services during the summer month. From June 27 to August 30, NYC’s Department of Education, through the Summer Meals Program, provides eligible children 18 years and younger with free breakfast and lunch in various locations around the city, including schools, pools, libraries, recreation centers, churches and even parks.
However, The Food Research & Action Center (FRAC)– a leading national nonprofit organization that works to eradicate poverty-related hunger and undernutrition in the United States–released their annual report, Hunger Doesn’t Take a Vacation. And according to the report, 2.9 million children, or only 1 in 7 of the low-income children nationwide who participated in school lunch during the 2017–2018 school year, received a summer lunch on an average weekday in July 2018.
In New York, the food insecurity rate for children in the city is nearly 11 percent higher than that for children nationwide, making the summer meals program even more imperative. An estimated 348,500 children in New York live in households that are food insecure, while the City reports a 2.7 percent decrease in participation from the previous summer, according to FRAC.
One of the possible causes for this gap in access might be limited or confusing information by the City of how and where to access the services, reported Chalkbeat. In fact, some parents reportedly have said the information they received erroneously directed them to Westchester or New Jersey.
This miscommunication has left millions of children hungry as meals go to waste and as federal funds erode.
“There’s a tremendous amount of variation amongst states and among communities in how well they’re reaching kids with summer meals,” said Crystal FitzSimons, FRAC’s director of school and out-of-school time programs.
The report also mentions that if every state met FRAC’s goal of reaching at least 4 out of 10 children receiving free or reduced-price lunch during the 2017–2018 school year, states would have collected an additional $425 million in child nutrition funding in July 2018, and an additional 5 million children would have been fed each day.
“We have a lot of work to do everywhere to increase kids access to summer meals,” FitzSimons said. “We really focus on ensuring access to the nutrition program as a key strategy to reduce hunger and ensure that all people in the U.S have access to a healthy diet with dignity.”
For more information on the NYC Summer Meals Program and to find your neighborhood site, visit the education department’s online portal, or text “NYCMEALS” to 877-877, or call 311 or download the app.