Serving More Summer Meals in Rural and Tribal Areas

This blog originally appeared on the White House Rural Council blog.

Catholic Charities began their second year providing meals to children up to age 18 through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) to children at the Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan Del Valle, TX on May 24, 2012. The SFSP is a federally funded program that is administered by the states in which they reimburse organizations for meals served to children during the summer months. USDA photo. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Agriculture)

Catholic Charities began their second year providing meals to children up to age 18 through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) to children at the Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan Del Valle, TX on May 24, 2012. The SFSP is a federally funded program that is administered by the states in which they reimburse organizations for meals served to children during the summer months. USDA photo. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Agriculture)

During the school year, over 21 million children receive free and reduced-price breakfast and lunch each day through the USDA’s National School Lunch Program. But, when school is out, many children who rely on these meals go hungry. The challenge is particularly great in rural areas and Indian Country, where 15 percent of households are food insecure. In these areas, children and teens often live long distances from designated summer meal sites and lack access to public transportation.

According to Feeding America, 43 percent of counties are rural, but they make up nearly two-thirds of counties with high rates of child food insecurity. The consequences are significant. Several studies have found that food insecurity impacts cognitive development among young children and contributes to poorer school performance, greater likelihood of illness, and higher health costs.

The Obama administration has addressed the challenge head-on, investing unprecedented energy and resources to increasing participation in the USDA’s Summer Food Service Program.

And the impact has been significant. In 2014, in the peak operating month of July, over 45,000 summer meal sites were available across the U.S., a 29 percent increase from 2009. All told, last summer the USDA Food and Nutrition Service delivered 23 million more meals than in the summer of 2009. But we know that in order to get every kid a nutritious meal this summer, we need to get everyone involved, from schools to federal agencies to volunteers in local communities. Check out this handy toolkit to see how you can help!

A smiling girl with orange glasses at lunch provided through assistance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Food Nutrition Service (FNS). (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Agriculture)

A smiling girl with orange glasses at lunch provided through assistance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Nutrition Service (FNS). (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Agriculture)

Today, the Administration is making a series of announcements designed to serve more meals this summer in rural and tribal areas.

  • Launching the “Summer Meals Site Finder.” Children and parents can now go to www.fns.usda.gov/summerfoodrocks on their computer or smartphone and enter an address, city, state, or zip code to find the location and other information of nearby summer meal sites.
  • Bringing in some help! This summer, certain high-need rural and tribal communities will get the help of 60 AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associates to help recruit volunteers, raise awareness of the summer meal program, and provide operational support.
  • Partnering with others. We’re teaming up with organizations like the National Football League and Feeding America to help raise awareness, target outreach, and deliver meals in rural and urban areas.

By working together with families, local schools, and private organizations, we are helping to make sure that children can easily get the nutritious meals they need to be healthy and ready to learn when they return to school in the fall.

Arne Duncan is Secretary of Education and Tom Vilsack is Secretary of Agriculture.

Seize the Summer: Keep Kids Active & Engaged in Learning

Did you know? Students can experience learning loss when they do not engage in educational activities during the summer months. On average, students lose the equivalent of two months of math and reading skills during the summer months. More than half of the achievement gap between lower- and higher-income youth can be explained by unequal access to summer learning opportunities.

ReadingThis summer, let’s work to change that. Together, parents, guardians, and community members can help give our children the best foundation for the upcoming school year.

Stay Engaged:

Encourage reading all summer long. This will help prevent the “summer slide” and provide benefits that can be seen year-round.

  • Visit the local library and help your child put together a summer reading list. Celebrate each time he or she finishes a book, this will encourage them to complete the list by the time the summer ends.

Be Creative:

Summer is the perfect time to let your child’s imagination run wild and stimulate creativity. Kids.gov provides resources for arts and crafts projects that will keep children engaged and their minds active while having fun.

  • NGA Kids – Choose from a variety of activities or projects from the National Gallery of Art, enjoy an animated musical adventure, take a tour through the sculpture garden, and more.
  • Smithsonian – Are your children fans of Night at the Museum? Then this is the perfect activity for them. Here you are magically taken to the museums at night. To get back home, you have to solve mysteries and help your new friends find their artworks.

Stay Active & Healthy:

In addition to academic risks, children can also be at an increased risk of weight gain when they are out of school during the summer months. Take advantage of the warmer weather and keep youth active outdoors.

  • KidsHealth.org – How do you feed a picky eater or encourage a child to play outside? Learn how to keep your child healthy with the right foods and exercise.
  • Let’s Move! – Opportunities for kids to be physically active, both in and out of school and create new opportunities for families to be moving together.
  • USDA Summer Food Program–  This U.S. Department of Agriculture program provides free meals to all children 18 years old and under in areas with significant concentrations of low-income children.

For additional tips throughout the summer, follow @usedgov on Twitter, and check out the U.S. Department of Education Facebook page.

Kelsey Donohue works in the Office of Communication and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education

Summer Meals Kickoff

With summer right around the corner, it’s time to think about making sure children have access to healthy meals while school is out. Children who experience hunger in the summer are more likely to suffer from health problems and “summer learning loss,” which interfere with academic success.

Image for Summer Meal Kickoff

To close that gap, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) partners with schools, local governments, and community organizations to provide free meals to children when school is out for the summer.

Any child age 18 and under may go to a designated summer meal site and eat for free. This summer, meals will be served at various locations around the country, and the USDA is always seeking new partners to help spread the word and participate in the program.

For more information about helping ensure meals are available to low-income children in your community, visit the Summer Food Service Program page.

Also see the Economic Benefits of Summer Food interactive map.