Growing Solutions to Summer Hunger

Many people think about summer as a great time for vacations, fun with friends and family, but they don’t think about what it means for many of Georgia’s children who rely on school breakfast and lunch during the school year.  When school lets out these children and their families have to think about how they are going to replace those meals; many times those meals are not replaced and these children go hungry during the summer.

Childhood hunger is such an important issue, especially in Georgia where 1 in 4 children suffers from food insecurity; while it presents itself year round for many children and their families, it becomes more pronounced during summer. Even though federal nutrition programs such as the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and Seamless Summer Option (SSO) are available for these vulnerable children, participation in them is not at a level that mirrors current participation in School Breakfast and the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) during the school year. With nearly 60% of Georgia’s children participating in NSLP during the school year, only 14% of those children are participating in the USDA nutrition programs that are available during the summer - a significant difference that indicates there is still a lot of work to be done.

Connecting families and communities to summer meals is a key strategy for the Georgia Food Bank Association’s (GFBA) Feeding for a Promising Future – No Kid Hungry® campaign.  The campaign was launched in November 2011 and is a partnership between Share Our Strength® and the Georgia Food Bank Association, with support from Governor Nathan Deal.  The goal is to end childhood hunger by using proven strategies to increase the number of Georgia children who eat nutritious meals offered through Summer and Afterschool Meals Programs. Over the last two years GFBA and Share Our Strength have used mini-grants to build statewide capacity of after-school and summer feeding programs, including the implementation of the Arby’s-sponsored texting system launched last summer, which gives parents information on nearby summer meal sites. This texting system is being utilized again this year. Anyone with a texting plan can text “FoodGA” to 877-877, or they can call “211” if they are not able to text.

In January, the Arby’s Foundation gave the Association a $3 million, 3-year grant to increase the number of strategies being implemented by the Association to create awareness and access to federal nutrition programs for children that need them.  We began the summer by creating awareness of the USDA summer feeding programs through three kick-off events held in Gainesville, Savannah and Atlanta – the Atlanta event being held on June 18th in partnership with Bright from the Start: GA DECAL and Georgia Department of Education: Nutrition Department. Additionally, a statewide billboard and radio PSA campaign has been launched to bring awareness around the summer feeding programs and to educate families about the texting system.

Lack of food and proper nutrients can impact a child’s growth, ability to learn, energy and self-esteem, which is why all of Georgia’s children and families deserve access to healthy foods, including plenty of fruits and vegetables.  Let’s increase awareness about these important programs. If you are wondering what you can do to help spread the word that these programs exist, tell people about the texting system or send them to our webpage. Childhood hunger and food insecurity is an important issue and one that cannot be ignored, so let’s work to reduce the numbers in our state, let’s get involved, let’s make a difference.

-Michele Chivore, Campaign Director, Georgia Food Bank Association