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While many of us are busy planning beach vacations, treks to see Mickey Mouse at the happiest place on earth, and hosting BBQs with friends and family, those who struggle with hunger don’t get a vacation from their troubles. Hunger doesn’t take a summer break.

Summer is a time of increased demand upon food banks/hunger relief agencies because, when the school year ends, millions of low-income children lose access to school meals, including about 2,347,000 in Texas alone.  It is in the best interest to ensure that these children have adequate nutrition during the summer so they stay healthy, active and return to school in the fall ready to learn.

Since1968, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)-funded SFSP has provided free, nutritious meals and snacks to help children in low-income areas obtain the food they need to learn, play, and grow throughout the summer when they are out of school.  The Program is designed to provide two nutritious meals per day – either breakfast and lunch or lunch and a substantial later-day snack.  Sadly, for many years Texas had one of the lowest SFSP participation rates in the country, leaving available food “on the table” and hungry kids without the nutrition they need. 

However, the most recent Hunger Doesn’t Take A Vacation report,released annually by the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), finds that participation in the Summer Nutrition Programs increased in Texas, with more than 280,000 low-income children receiving summer meals on an average day in July 2013. This was an increase of 8.1% from the previous summer.  Houston Food Bank noted that summer meals reached only 12 students for every 100 low-income children who got regular school year school meals in the 2012-2013 school year, worse than the national rate of 15.1.

The FRAC report finds that summer meal participation nationally reached nearly three million students on an average day in July of 2013, up 161,000 children or 5.7 percent from July 2012.  This represents the first considerable increase in participation in a decade, providing welcome momentum for the Summer Nutrition Programs.

While participation increased nationally, there is still room for improvement. Low participation means missed meals for children and missed dollars for the state. If Texas were to reach 40 children with summer food for every 100 low-income children who get school lunch during the regular school year, Texas would have fed an additional 378,872 low-income children every day in July 2013 and brought in $49,464,816 more federal dollars to do so.

It’s not too late for states and communities to make a difference this summer. State and community leaders can follow the lead of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which has launched an aggressive campaign to increase participation. This summer, Texas is one of six states targeted by USDA for increased assistance in growing the number of children eating summer meals.  

Jim Weill, president of FRAC, notes that, “The national increase in summer food participation is good news, but Congress will need to fix some of the underlying barriers in the 2015 Child Nutrition Reauthorization to truly repair the Summer Nutrition Programs. Congress needs to act to strengthen the programs so they are able to reach more low-income children, and help the program more effectively address hunger and meet increased need.”

The Summer Nutrition Programs, which include the Summer Food Service Program and the National School Lunch Program, should be filling the food gap for the thousands of low-income Texas children who rely on school breakfast and lunch during the school year to help keep hunger at bay. These programs provide free meals at participating summer sites at schools, parks, other public agencies, and nonprofits for children under 18. 

Families in the Houston area may find a summer meal site by calling the HFB Help Line (832)-369-9390; or by dialing 2-1-1.  Throughout Texas families may find nearby summer meal sites at:  www.Summerfood.org  or by calling the or by texting FOODTX to 877-877.  New this year from USDA is “SummerFoodRocks,” a free web-based application that features a site locator and search tool, and works on devices such as iPads, iPhones, Blackberrys, and Androids. Visit www.fns.usda.gov/summerfoodrocks to locate nearby summer meal site near you. This app is available nationwide on June 2, 2014.

How can you help?  Be an advocate for the Houston Food Bank and our clients, and let your elected officials know that you are FOR support and funding of programs such as SFSP.  For more information and sample letters, visit /get-involved/be-an-advocate/

About the report:

Data for Texas come from the 2014 version of the annual report released by the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), the lead advocacy organization working to end hunger in America through stronger public policies. The FRAC report,Hunger Doesn’t Take A Vacation,gives data for all states and looks at national and state trends. FRAC measures national summer participation during the month of July, when typically all children are out of school throughout the month and lose access to regular school year meals. The report is available online at www.frac.org. 

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