Kimberley Pope: Children need meals when school’s out, too

2014-06-23T00:00:00Z Kimberley Pope: Children need meals when school’s out, tooBy Kimberley Pope Special to the Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

School is out, the heat is swelling, and every afternoon public pools are bursting with smiling faces and the sound of laughter of children on summer vacation.

But for some children in Southern Arizona, summer means wondering where their next meal is coming from.

Most Arizonans have heard of the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). It is one of the most successful ways we fight childhood hunger, both here in Arizona and across the U.S. During the 2012-2013 school year, roughly 461,000 Arizona kids received free and reduced-price lunch from their school cafeterias.

But when the school year ends the meals do, too, and kids who live in households without enough to eat are left with inadequate, less-than-nutritious lunches.

It’s not hard to imagine the high price these kids pay for skipping meals. Hunger increases children’s risk  for various health problems and is one of the severest obstacles to learning, especially when a person’s brain is rapidly developing.

Simply put, when children are hungry, they struggle to learn. When they struggle to learn, they struggle in life. When they struggle in life, it hurts us all.

As we go through the first grueling hot weeks of summer here in Arizona, it provides us with a good opportunity to examine what we are doing to feed children in the summer and what we could do better. Because the truth is, there is both good news and bad news on this front.

The good news is that every year more kids in Arizona are receiving nutritious meals through the federally assisted summer meals program. According to Hunger Doesn’t Take a Vacation, a new report issued by the nonpartisan Food Research and Action Center, last summer 68,743 Arizona children participated in the summer meals program on average each day. That was an increase of more than 8,000 over the previous summer. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that out of the previously mentioned 461,000 Arizona kids who participated in the NSLP last school year, only about 15 percent received healthy meals from the summer lunch program.

In other words: In the summer, we’re not doing enough when it comes to making sure that every child has enough to eat. In an America where one in five children are in danger of going to bed hungry, we can and must to better, not only for our kids but for our future.

Ending childhood hunger is a solvable problem. There are programs like NSLP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and Women, Infants and Children (WIC) that have been proved effective. We should do all that we can to protect and strengthen these programs.

We should also invest in our local programs to help feed kids here in Arizona.

In the Tucson area alone there are more than 50 summer food sites providing free meals to kids every day through schools or the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona. Families can find out more about a summer food program near them by visiting www.azsummerfood.gov and entering their ZIP code, or by contacting their child’s school district.

Every kid deserves a solid meal no matter what time of year it is.

Kimberley Pope is an organizer for Arizona Fair Share Education Fund.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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