Alleviating Summer Food Insecurity for Children

Lined up for lunchIt is 11:26 a.m. in the Woodridge Apartment community and there is a line of children sitting on a bench, and more coming down the sidewalk. They are walking toward  a shaded area where staff from Children First/CIS and volunteers from Unitarian Universalist Church are unfolding  tables and opening up large Styrofoam containers full of milk and packed food.

They are setting up a feeding site for the Super Summer Meals program, a collaboration between the USDA, Buncombe County Schools and partner organizations. The Super Summer Meals program is a federally-funded, state-administered program, which reimburses providers who serve healthy meals to children and teens in low-income areas at no charge primarily during the summer months when school is not in session. During the school year, many children receive free and reduced-price breakfast and lunch through the School Breakfast and National School Lunch Programs. When school lets out many of these children are at risk of hunger, and the Summer Food Program originated to help alleviate this risk.

The program runs from June 13th until August 19th, Monday through Friday from 11:30-12:30. The Woodridge feeding site is just one of numerous sites located throughout the county, and is an open site, meaning any child ages 0-18 from Buncombe County can come to the site and get a free lunch. It is staffed by volunteers, with at least one trained staff member from a partner agency on site to keep records and manage food safety. Buncombe County Schools Child Nutrition Supervisors hold trainings on record keeping, USDA guidelines/regulations and food safety for all partner agency staff members who facilitate the feeding sites.

Candice and family (3)Candice arrives at the site with three of her four children, ages 16 to 3. “This program helps a lot,” she says, as her children line up excitedly at the table. “When the kids are in school, they get their lunches provided for them. In the summer, my food bill goes up substantially, but I don’t get an increase in the amount of food stamps. It makes it tough.”

“Having this program saves me probably $100 a month in my food budget,” she continues as she helps her youngest daughter prepare her sandwich. “Because of this program, my food budget stays the same as it is during the school year, and that really helps a lot. Plus, the kids get really excited about coming to the site. They know exactly when the food arrives and say ‘Mommy, can we go get lunch now?’”

Currently in its fifth year, the Super Summer Meals program grew in response to the risk of summer food insecurity experienced by children who are on the free and reduced meal program during the school year. Over half of Buncombe County students are on the free and reduced meal program and are at risk of experiencing hunger during the summer months. 89,000 meals were distributed throughout the community in the summer of 2016.

There are about 20 people gathered around the feeding site, sitting on park benches and on the curb eating their lunches and talking together. Parents are talking together while children play. A three year-old girl smiles shyly up at a group of high-school students.  “Hamburger day is a popular day,” says Demarcus Thompson, from Children First/CIS. “We won’t have any left-overs today.”

Making sure children are well-fed throughout the year is a part of every parent’s success equation. Support the Super Summer Meals program by thanking the Buncombe County School Board of Education for providing this valuable service for Buncombe County children, and encourage them to continue providing this service, so all children can thrive.

This story is part of a series collected by The Success Equation. Under the umbrella of Children First/CIS, the Success Equation is an initiative that unites community to reduce and prevent poverty so all children can thrive.