The National School Lunch Program reached 22 million school-aged children with free or reduced-price lunches in 2015.
But what happens to all those children when the school doors close?
The Urban Institute reports that about 2.6 million children take part in the Summer Food Service Program. That means the program is reaching a little more than 1 in 10 of the children eligible for the benefit. Several barriers are getting in the way nationally: Limited eligibility for parents and caregivers, the lack of sponsorship and suitable program sites; lack of transportation in rural areas, and older kids being embarrassed to be seen receiving free meals are all hurdles to delivering the benefit to children in need.
The result? Higher rates of food insecurity during summer months. And a 2007 study published in the American Journal of Public Health suggests that children are more vulnerable to obesity during the summer months, as families turn to cheaper and less-nutritious food to stretch limited dollars.
To fight this trend, the Urban Institute reports, agencies are thinking outside the lunchbox to reach children facing food insecurity over the summer.
One demonstration project by the USDA that provides SNAP assistance benefits via electronic cards has shown promise in reducing food insecurity. The Obama administration has proposed phasing in this approach in the Fiscal 2017 federal budget, but lack of cooperation from Congress could derail the plan.
Another three-year pilot program launched by Feeding America and funded by the ConAgra Foods Foundation is bringing separate agencies and stakeholders together during the summer months. For example, a food bank in greater Cincinnati is working with partner agencies to create a culinary summer camp that provides teens with seasonal jobs and programs teaching younger kids about healthy eating and cooking skills.