For many children, the end of school is a time of liberation – sleeping in a bit, playing with their friends, hanging out, vacations, camp, etc.
For more than 16 million children in the United States, summer means even more worries about having enough food to flourish because they’ve lost access to school breakfast and lunch programs. Their families have to cope with the additional financial burdens of replacing those meals, child care and other basics that often mean fee based pleasures like community pools and summer camps are beyond their reach. Angela shared her story in the San Mateo Times.
However, there are many children whose summer does not have such appealing prospects. They are anxious. Not attending school means not knowing where their next meal is coming from and there are thousands, yes, thousands in San Mateo County.
Eight-year-old Angela is one. “My parents both work but they don’t get paid very much. With the rent, we can’t pay for food,” she said. “It’s hard for us. There was this time when I came home from school I was really hungry but there wasn’t anything to eat. When you’re hungry, it feels bad. I was kind of worried.”
In Pennsylvania, we have summer food service programs, but they are vastly underused. You can click here for more information on those programs including details on how to sign up for them.
To understand the magnitude of the number of children in SW Pennsylvania who will go hungry this summer consider that the Food Bank serves 120,000 people each month. That represents 35% of the people eligible for services. So more than 60% of the families who qualify for help are not receiving it. The Food Bank works continuously with agencies throughout the 11 county area to identity and encourage people to register for food pantries and other programs.
Imagine being a single mother with two school-aged children. You are working, receiving some food stamps & using a food pantry each month. Thanks to school breakfasts and lunches, you know your children have two solid meals a day. Along comes summer. You put together a quilt of childcare – relatives, neighbors, a few weeks at a summer camp where you qualify for a scholarship. Still there are days when your older son is responsible for your younger child for a few hours. You aren’t worried about safety because you have plans in place with reliable neighbors, but he has to make something for them to eat those days. And your caretakers need you to provide food for the kids, too. Where does that extra food come from?
Food stamps average about $1.80 a meal per person. You can see where a jar of peanut butter and boxes of filling,
nutritious cereal might go the distance rather than a can of ravioli. Still, kids like canned ravioli every once in awhile. But peanut butter sandwiches with a piece of fruit is a “meal” an older child can safely prepare. But you have to pay for aluminum foil or sandwich bags from your own cash; food stamps don’t cover it. And you need to put the food you send to your daycare providers in something. You need to send juice or something to drink.
Do you start to see how complicated it is? This mother is using extra gas money to transport the children to their daycare. She’s forced to invest in things to keep her children engaged & safe. She has to still buy so much from her limited cash from her job. And kids are kids – they want to go swimming, they need new shorts & tee shirts plus back to school clothes are right around the corner. If she picks up OT or a side job, she faces even more complications with childcare, etc.
Add to the fact that surveys indicated up to 35% skip meals even with food stamps & food pantries. They don’t eat so their kids do. One local mother who once relied on food stamps shared her story with me about portioning out the food for her young son and going without. By Monday, she was light-headed, weak and barely able to drive to get food. And again she was using resources. There simply wasn’t enough.
During the month of June, our project is teaming up with Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank to sponsor “School’s Out – Watch Out for Hunger.” Our goals are to raise awareness about this serious issue and seek donations of tote bags and food to increase access to food resources. The more people who contribute and talk about this problem, the better chance we have to encourage people to turn to their food pantry for support and provide nourishing foods for children.
How can you help?
- Organize a tote/food drive. This is a good project for a group – coworkers, faith community, even a softball team. Ask everyone to bring a tote bag with a few of the items we suggest. Voila!
- This is also a good project for kids. Ask them to create their own drive – make posters, ask their family & neighbors to contribute and talk about hunger, giving back and even the logistics of organizing a project. We can provide resources for summer camps and other groups to use with children.
- Donate as a family. Have each person pick out an item and add it to a family bag, then donate it together. A child in a class of 30 kids can grasp the fact that up to six of them might not have enough food.
- Family Reunion? Perfect place for a food drive.
- We also could use a logo if you have those talents.
- Distribute fliers & encourage people to participate.
- If you run a business, perhaps you can offer an incentive for people to donate during the month of June – a discount on a coffee, a free appetizer, an extra few flowers in a bouquet.
- Are you a blogger? Please consider writing a post about this topic – how does it impact you to think about childhood hunger. Can your readers donate food/totes?
- Couponer? Watch for great deals & pass it along – we’ll make sure it is included in Yinz Save n’ Share.
This is a great project, but we need your support to make it successful. Please spread the word – share the link, share the stories. To end, this is a list of items most needed by the food pantries.
- Peanut butter
- High fiber, low sugar cereals
- 100% juice, plastic jars or boxes
- Fruit (packed in water) and applesauce
- Canned soups, stews and related items – anything easy to heat up (for a child able to use those tools)
- Whole grain bars & trail mix & raisins
- Shelf stable milk
- Easy mac and cheese
- Diapers (always critically needed)
- Sister supplies (for young women who don’t have access to supplies at school)
Thank you for your support! And don’t forget your tote. It is also a good time to pass along a gently used backpack.