Originally posted on The Vacaville Reporter: As some families are packing for their summer vacations, others are worried about how they are going to put enough food on the table for their children. During the school year, over 65,000 low-income children in Contra Costa and Solano counties receive free or subsidized lunches.
Students receive their mid-day meals through the National School Lunch Program. It is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and many schools have breakfast and snack programs as well.
These programs benefit children, parents and even teachers, as it is difficult to teach hungry students. Children (and adults) lack focus and energy when their bodies are not being fueled properly, making it hard to learn and retain information.
The USDA also runs the Summer Lunch Program, which provides funding and food so schools can continue providing lunch over the summer break. Unfortunately, in most districts, while there may be a Summer Lunch Program, there aren’t summer school programs in session to draw children to the school grounds.
The creative minds in each district’s food service program have come up with ways to continue providing food to hungry kids over the summer. Some schools have mobile food trucks that go to parks in low-income areas where children gather and they provide them with meals. Other schools provide meals at public libraries, where children often spend their summer days. School districts want to reach students at these common summertime gathering areas, so they can provide the children with healthy lunches. These methods help, but they aren’t reaching all the children in need.
One of the challenges that schools face is that, in some neighborhoods, parents do not want their children walking alone to a summer meal site. Because of USDA regulations, a parent that accompanies a child to a distribution site is not able to eat a meal. In many cases, if the child has a little sibling that is too young to attend school, they also have to go without food. In some cases, parents and siblings are not even allowed to sit with the student while the student eats their lunch. Obviously these regulations discourage, rather than encourage, participation in the Summer Lunch Program.
We all know how important it is for children to receive proper nutrition on a consistent basis. Their bodies and brains are developing and food is essential. Skipping meals on a regular basis can have long-term detrimental effects.
To encourage an increase in participation in the Summer Lunch Program, the Food Bank is working on a demonstration project this summer. It is funded by the Y&H Soda Foundation, an organization that supports nonprofit organizations committed to the well-being of the underserved. This project will allow us to pay for meals that parents and siblings eat when they bring their school-age child to a Summer Lunch Program site. If we can show that the Summer Lunch Program can be a positive family meal, we hope to initiate a broader discussion about the benefits Summer Lunch can give when we help provide food to families in need.