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Let Kids be Kids: Don't Let Them Go Hungry This Summer
Yesterday marked the first day of summer. While school is out for kids everywhere, some children who rely on the free and reduced meal program at their schools go hungry. Every year millions of students receive free school meals through the National School Lunch Program. Unfortunately, only a fraction get those meals in the summer.
As a college students, my wife Colleen and I both spent a summer working with Project Connect (now Faces Without Places), in Cincinnati, OH. This program served to connect students who were homeless with services and enrichment programs during the summer, and an important part of the summer program was making sure the children were fed! Students received breakfast, lunch, and a large snack before they went home for the day through programs like the Summer Nutrition Program ( a program funded through the federal government). For many kids, this “snack” was the last meal they would eat until breakfast the next morning. Below are some of our memories of serving in this program for one summer:
Colleen: As a teacher, I’ve often walked over to a student, given him or her the “teacher look,” and calmly held out my hand many times. Usually it’s for a twisted paper clip or a mysterious beeping device. I’ll never forget the time at Project Connect when I walked over to a student, held out my hand, and he sheepishly emptied his pockets to hand me a plastic fork and spoon. The soup kitchens didn’t have enough utensils, so families had to provide their own. What a burden on this small boy to always think about how to get -- and eat -- his next meal.
Jon: I recall watching several kids sneaking off extra food in their pockets to take home with them for later. It was technically not allowed, but I couldn’t bring myself to force them to put it back.
Colleen: A good, healthy meal has been shown to affect a student's attention and performance. As a teacher, I know that students learn best when they don’t have to worry about where their next meal comes from. Students learn best when they can be kids first and students second. Being hungry in the summer doesn’t let you be much of a kid.
Jon: I know these experiences reminded us both that some of the most vulnerable members of our society are children who must go without the simple blessing of breakfast, lunch, or dinner, especially during these summer months. Unfortunately many programs that help children like those we worked with in Cincinnati are at risk of being cut. We pray Congress will prioritize funding and create a circle of protection around these vital programs. Write a letter and make a phone call to your member of Congress. Let’s let kids be kids and make sure hunger is out for the summer. And the rest of the year too!
Photo caption: Children in a Head Start class in Tuscon, AZ, eat a nutritious lunch. Photo by Jeffrey Austin.
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