When the school year ends, many hungry children lose access to the school breakfasts and lunches they receive during the school year. Meals provided through the Summer Food Service Program play an important role in making sure these children have access to nutritious food once the school year ends. This program is federally reimbursed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and locally administered by the Nebraska Department of Education.
Each year, the Food Resource and Action Center (FRAC), a national anti-hunger and research advocacy group, puts out Hunger Doesn’t Take a Vacation, a report on national participation in summer nutrition programs. The report measures participation in these programs by comparing the number of children participating in summer meal programs with the number of low-income children who got regular meals during the school year.
Unfortunately, FRAC’s 2013 report demonstrates that participation in summer nutrition programs continues to come up short in Nebraska. Specifically, a few key statistics demonstrate that Nebraska is failing to close the summer hunger gap:
- On an average day last July, only 9.5 percent of Nebraska children in need of summer meals received them, a 5.8 percent decrease from the previous year.
- Nebraska summer food sites served fewer lunches in July and August 2012. Sites served 8 percent and 31 percent fewer lunches in July and August 2012, respectively, than in July and August 2011.
- In 2012, Nebraska ranked 35th nationally in Summer Food Service Program participation relative to the number of children who qualified for free or reduced-price school lunch. Only 7.3 percent of the kids who were eligible for the National School Lunch Program received a meal through the SFSP.
One way that Nebraska could improve its delivery of summer meals to hungry children is through an increase in summer food sites. Nebraska saw an increase in sponsors for summer food programs in 2012; however, the state still needs a greater number of sites to provide the meals. The FRAC report lists resources each state has available for expanding summer food programs, including funding from a new state law LB 1090 in Nebraska. LB 1090 provides a funding stream to increase the number of summer food sites in Nebraska. Under this legislation, sites are able to access grants of up to $15,000 for site start up and expansion expenses. Therefore, Nebraska has the necessary tools to decrease hunger faced by many children over the summer.
Summer nutrition programs are key to closing the summer hunger gap. FRAC’s report demonstrates that Nebraska still has work to do and resources to use to ensure hungry Nebraska children receive adequate nutrition in the summer and are healthy and ready to learn in the fall.
To find out how to start a program to help kids in your community, contact the Nebraska Department of Education, which oversees the Summer Food Service Program in Nebraska, by calling (800) 731-2233, or visit the USDA’s SFSP website.