The Truth About Summer Hunger
Jul 5, 2022
Written by Hannah Webster
For most school-aged children, summer vacation provides relief from the stress-filled school year. For them, summer is a time to unwind and relax. However, for many students, another issue arises once schools close for the summer, one more serious than pop quizzes and homework assignments.
As a high school student, I see announcements about free meals for students throughout the school year, but as summer approaches, these announcements seem to dwindle. The fact that I’m privileged enough to attend school in a thriving district and still notice these issues leads me to doubt that students in less fortunate areas receive the resources they need, especially over the summer. Although I’m able to spend my summer vacations taking a step back from school,
spending time with family and friends, and going on trips, many of my peers across the state don’t have the same privilege.
Feeding America estimates that 22 million children in the United States experience summer hunger each year. These children rely on nutrition programs through their schools, leaving them without reliable access to food for up to three months during the summer. Although there are programs that provide meals to students throughout the summer months, these programs fail to reach even a quarter of the children who need them (Feeding America).
Summer hunger has tremendous mental and physical impacts on the children affected. Students who lack proper nutrition throughout the summer often return to school with a greater loss in reading ability than their peers. They are also more susceptible to anemia, asthma, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease (No Kid Hungry).
The lack of sufficient summer nutrition programs for students impacts entire communities, not just individuals. No Kid Hungry estimates that, were all the students who receive food support throughout the school year to receive it during the summer, 81,600 more students would graduate high school each year, and educational systems would save up to $50.6 billion, due to the costs associated with reteaching material lost over the summer.
In this way, reducing summer hunger would not only improve food security. It would also improve the economic conditions of communities, weakening the cycle of poverty and hunger in those areas.
Throughout the past two years, school nutrition programs have benefited from increased flexibility and monetary support due to policy changes during the pandemic (NPR). When these policies were created, they were set to expire on June 30th, 2022. Despite the combined efforts of nutrition experts, activists, and school district officials, lobbyists were unsuccessful in their efforts to have Congress renew the spending program.
Without this program, schools will incur financial penalties if unable to meet certain nutritional requirements, receive less reimbursement for meals provided, and only be allowed to distribute meals in a sit-down format (US News). These changes will revert nutrition programs to their pre-pandemic formats, which were less efficient.
In the current economic climate, these policy changes are especially damaging since high inflation rates, supply chain issues, and labor shortages already inhibit student meal services.
The overall decrease in funding for these programs poses a significant threat to summer meal services. In an interview with US News, Lisa Davis, senior vice president of No Kid Hungry, claimed that many organizations will have to decrease or eliminate their summer nutrition programs.
What can we do to support school meal services, especially during the summer?
- Contact your representatives. If you are struggling to know where to start, Feeding America provides a simple way to contact lawmakers regarding Child Nutrition Programs.
- Share this information with others, and encourage them to join us in petitioning lawmakers to support school nutrition programs. Increasing awareness of how cutting these programs affects students and their communities is vital to promoting a permanent replacement to the pandemic relief policies.
- Support food banks through volunteering and/or donations. Local nonprofits can help support families experiencing summer hunger when school systems lack funding.
Hannah Webster is a rising senior at Lexington High School, where she is in the International Baccalaureate program. She is an editor of her school's yearbook and loves writing, photography, and running.