Friday, May 27, 2011

Summer Hunger

In our mission to engage the community to end hunger, we make an effort to direct a lot of attention to the innocent children affected hunger in our communities. In the Grand Rapids Food Shelf alone, 40% of those coming for food assistance are families with children under the age of 18. These families rely on federally subsidized school breakfasts and lunches as well as our “Kids Packs to Go” backpack program. Our backpack program provides snacks to children at risk of going hungry over the weekend. Every month during the school year, our volunteers pack 1635 “Kids Packs” and we distribute them to 16 schools in Itasca, Aitkin, Cass, Kanabec and Crow Wing counties.

Next month, school is out for summer break. While summer vacation is considered to be freedom for many children, for too many other children it means losing the one place that they can count on for a meal. It is estimated that more than 12 million children are at risk of hunger in America.

For most of the country, the face of hunger is surprising. It does not discriminate against age, race, gender, or ethnicity. It affects working families who are forced to make difficult choices between food and basic necessities such as heat, medicine or rent. These families are left struggling to find a way to keep their children fed when these programs end and summer vacation begins.

The USDA’s Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), which provides low-income children with free, nutritious meals during the summer months when school is not in session, is intended to fill this gap. SFSP is the single largest federal resource available for local community organizations that want to combine a feeding program with a summer activity program. It is now easier than ever for organizations to participate and provide food for children in the summer through the SFSP.

However, nationally and here in our community, the Summer Food Service Program has been underutilized. Sponsors are needed to help coordinate the program, and agencies are needed to host feeding sites and encourage families to bring their children. One of the biggest reasons that the SFSP is underutilized is that families do not know that it is available for their children. Help is needed in raising awareness of this important program. Together, we can ensure that all children have access to healthy meals this summer. A list of SFSP sites will be complied and posted on our website as soon as it is public knowledge. Visit for more information or call Second Harvest North Central Food Bank at (218)326-4420.

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