As the warmer months approach and the school year draws to a close, parents and students alike long for the freedom summer vacation brings. Unfortunately, this time of year can also be bittersweet for families that rely on free or reduced lunch during the school year. For nine months out of the year, many families’ reliance on breakfast and lunch eaten at school represents thousands of dollars in savings. For many though, this benefit ceases to exist during the summer months.
Although many urban and some suburban areas offer meals to children over the summer months, the unrealistic framework that these programs operate within means that for most children, there is no access to this needed nutrition. The USDA suggests that on average only 15% of children that receive free school year meals have the means to access them during the summer months. In my experience, the percentage is far lower.
Even at face value though, these numbers are still truly staggering if you consider how many students lose necessary meals every summer. As an example, there are around 35,000 children enrolled in the Cleveland school district, with 100% of them qualifying for free school year breakfast and lunch. This 15 percent average means roughly 30,000 of these 35,000 children will have no access to the same quality of nutrition during the summer months, leaving this burden for their already struggling families to carry.
And, interestingly, this problem only grows worse the further you get from urban areas. Rural students who rely on free school meals have even less access to summer nutrition programs.
Although an urban student in need might have to walk a couple of blocks to get to a meal site, that same student in a rural setting might have to travel 30 or 50 miles to access a similar program.
So, as we get ready to celebrate the end of another school year, let’s also give some thought to those who will struggle to fight off hunger until the next school year begins.