by Louise Bain, Programs Outreach Coordinator
Most children look forward to summer vacation. Time spent playing with friends, going to the beach or taking a family trip is always fun. But for many of our neighbors, summer is a time of great need because they don’t know where their next meal will come from. During the academic year, kids and teens receive breakfast and lunch at school for free or at reduced prices, but many children who rely on those meals are at risk of hunger or poor nutrition when school is out for the summer. In Southwest Florida, 73% of students receive free or reduced lunch throughout the school year.
Consistent access to healthy food helps children maintain their ability to learn and focus, even when they’re not attending school every day. It also reduces their risk for chronic health conditions such as asthma and helps maintain a healthy immune system. The Summer Feeding Program sponsored by the USDA helps reduce the risk of food insecurity. In existence since 1968, this program provided free, nutritious meals and snacks to more than 2.28 million children in 2012 all across the United States (the most recent numbers available).
Meal sites are at many different types of locations throughout the country including schools, churches, child care centers, parks, libraries, community centers and day camps. In our five county service area of Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties, there are more than 125 sites available where kids and teens can enjoy a nutritious breakfast, lunch and/or snack. To find a summer feeding site near you or your neighbors in need in Southwest Florida (or anywhere in the state), go to www.summerfoodflorida.org and click on “Find a Site Near You”, or call 2-1-1 for more information. Days and times will vary by location, and all meals are served in a safe, supervised environment.
As one site coordinator put it, “Caloosa Baptist Church is honored to partner with the Hendry County Summer Food program to serve lunches to the children and their families in our community. It has served those in need as well as given us an opportunity to connect with those outside of our church. This has been a successful endeavor and we are honored to participate.”