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End summer hunger now

MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN | 4/25/2016, 7:15 a.m.
Spring is almost in full swing and summer is just around the corner. Millions of children in America can’t wait ...

(George Curry Media) – Spring is almost in full swing and summer is just around the corner. Millions of children in America can’t wait for summer vacation, but for millions of poor children who rely on school meals, it’s a mixed blessing.

“I qualify for free and reduced lunch. I can get a free breakfast, I can get like a muffin, juice, anything like that, in the morning, and then lunch, I don’t have to pay, so I can get whatever I wanted for lunch. So I’ve always been able to eat at school for lunch and breakfast.”

Those are the words of Linda Ransom, a Columbus, Ohio, high school senior and the winner of a Children’s Defense Fund Beat the Odds scholarship whose family struggles to make ends meet. When Ransom was 7, her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and the medical crisis led to a family financial crisis. Ransom’s mother lost her job, and with a mountain of medical bills is still trying to catch up 10 years later. They’ve been homeless for stretches of time. Food has often been beyond their means. Ransom said, “If we didn’t have any food at home, I knew I could get some at school, and sometimes I could take a couple things from the breakfast line and I could just save it for later, so when I got home, if I was hungry, I could eat it.”

Hunger doesn’t take a summer vacation and poor children like Ransom who rely on free and reduced-price breakfast and lunch during the school year to keep the wolves of hunger at bay face a long summer of food deprivation. “It was hard without school during the summer, but being able to qualify for something like food stamps or having a food pantry near us, that helped a lot,” Ransom said, but at the end of the month, “it was kind of like a hit-or-miss kind of situation.”

Hit or miss. No child in rich America should go hungry this or any summer, especially when 100 percent federally funded summer feeding programs are available if local officials and communities apply for or use them. But more than 1 in 4 families with children are food insecure and struggling to keep food on the table. The federal Summer Nutrition Programs could help millions more children escape hunger this summer by providing meals if responsible adults act now. The need is urgent. Although 19.7 million children received free or reduced-price lunches during the 2013-2014 school year, only 3.2 million children – 16.2 percent – participated in the Summer Nutrition Programs.

If local school boards, community groups, faith congregations, mayors and county representatives act now, they should be able to get 100 percent federally funded Summer Nutrition Programs in their area or add more if there already are some summer food sites. The federal Summer Food Service Programs and the “Seamless Summer” option offered through the National School Lunch Program are designed to replace the regular school year breakfast and lunch programs. Meals provided through the Summer Nutrition Programs also can link children without summer learning opportunities, camps or other costly options to educational and recreational programming to keep them learning, active and safe during school vacation. Summer feeding programs also create jobs for food preparers, servers, bus drivers and others.