Around the country, children are excited for the fun and freedom of summer vacation. Summer should be a time for kids to play outside, read for pleasure and spend time with family.
Sadly, for too many children, summer is also a time of increased hunger. Low-income children who rely on school breakfast and lunch programs for nourishment during the school year are often left without enough to eat.
Over 85,000 low-income children in Central and Eastern Kentucky receive lunch assistance during the school year, but only 10 percent or less will access feeding programs this summer.
Research has found that children consume up to 50 percent of their total daily calories at school during the school year. Many of our low-income families struggle to fill that gap.
Without that food during hot summer days, we know that summer is the hungriest time of the year for low-income children.
God's Pantry Food Bank and other charities are doing our part to try to close the summer hunger gap by operating summer feeding programs in our community. But there is no way we will be able to reach the 90 percent of kids not being served without greater flexibility in how we reach kids in the summer.
We need to continue strong national standards and accountability while providing new program models that local communities can tailor to best meet their circumstances.
For example, program regulations dictate that we can only feed children if they consume a meal at the program site. We do our best to build sites in areas of concentrated need and, where possible, provide children with a space not just to eat, but to play and learn. But we can't open a site down the street from every needy family, particularly in rural Eastern Kentucky.
Families may have to travel long distances to reach the nearest program, and the roundtrip fuel cost may outweigh the value of the lunch their child receives. If a program is only open in the morning and mom works the early shift, her kids are out of luck if the site is beyond a safe walking distance from their home.
Our community could do far more to protect Central and Eastern Kentucky's children from hunger if families received a grocery card to purchase the food they need in the summer so they can prepare meals at home, or if the Food Bank sent kids home with several days' worth of meals once a week.
These tested and proven program options would strengthen and complement the existing model and reach more kids who cannot access a summer meal site.
Child hunger may exist in every county across the country, but not every county looks the same, and a one-size-fits-all model is not going to put a dent in reaching the 90 percent of at-risk kids who aren't being reached in Central and Eastern Kentucky this summer.
Congress has a unique opportunity to give communities more summer feeding options when they rewrite child nutrition programs this year. God's Pantry Food Bank hopes you will join us in making the summer hunger gap a top priority for our congressional delegation.
We encourage all of our elected officials to visit one of our summer feeding programs to learn about the summer hunger gap.