Free summer meals help reduce child hunger in Utah when school is out

Too many children in Utah are missing out on the nutrition they need during the summer months when the school year — and access to school breakfast and lunch — come to an end, according to a new report released today by the Food Research & Action Center. 

Hunger Doesn’t Take a Vacation: Summer Nutrition Status Report finds that 25,886 children received a summer lunch on an average weekday in July 2018, a 9.8 percent increase from July 2017. Despite the increase in participation, Utah served just 17 children for every 100 low-income children who received free and reduced-price school lunch.

Nationally, 2.9 million children, or only 1 in 7 of the low-income children who participated in school lunch during the 2017–2018 school year, received a summer lunch on an average weekday in July 2018.

“Low-income children miss out on more than just food when summer meals are not available to them,” said Neil Rickard, Child Nutrition Advocate, Utahns Against Hunger. “Many summer meal sites offer educational and enrichment programming, which, combined with meals, helps reduce food insecurity and summer learning loss for children.”

In Utah, healthy free summer meals are provided at local sites such as schools, recreation centers, libraries, YMCAs, Boys & Girls Clubs, churches, and parks for children ages 18 and under.

If Utah reached FRAC’s ambitious, but achievable, goal of reaching 40 children through the Summer Nutrition Programs for every 100 receiving free or reduced-price lunch during the 2017–2018 school year, an additional 35,764 children would have been fed each day.

“Utahns Against Hunger would love to see more kids have access to this important program, but there are a lot of gaps and unnecessary barriers created by current policy” said Rickard. Congress is currently working to reauthorize these programs through Child Nutrition Reauthorization. This provides Congress an important opportunity to increase participation in summer meals and strengthen the program, says FRAC. Utahns Against Hunger joins with FRAC and other state level organization in advocating for the inclusion of provisions in the reauthorization to allow communities with substantial but less concentrated poverty — often in rural and suburban areas — to provide summer meals; reduce red tape by allowing sponsors of meal sites to provide food year-round through the Summer Food Service Program (rather than operating this program in the summer and another during the school year); and allow all sites to serve three meals — currently only camps and sites serving migrant children can serve three meals.

Significant federal, state, and local investments also must be made to support the underlying programs that provide a platform for summer meals; such investments would ensure there are enough affordable summer programs where low-income children can go to eat, learn, and be active during the summer in a safe environment.

“We know that the need for summer meals and affordable, high quality summer programs far exceeds their availability,” said Rickard. “Utahns Against Hunger is working with our partners, including the USDA, the Utah State Board of Education, the Utah Food Bank, Utah Community Action Agency and so many others to redouble our efforts to increase access to the Summer Nutrition Programs.”