Childhood hunger is an invisible but very real problem in every one of our counties. Although there is not a lack of food in the United States, more than 200,000 Kentucky children can’t count on the nutritious meals they need to lead healthy, active lives.
More than 1 out of 5 children in Kentucky are at risk of hunger. Hunger impairs their health and their ability to learn, and predisposes them to emotional and behavioral difficulties that can negatively affect their families and our communities for years to come.
Although we have had adequate child nutrition programs to provide our most vulnerable children with nutritious meals at school, after school and in the summer, these programs reach only a fraction of the children who qualify for them.
According to the recent “Hunger Doesn’t Take A Vacation” report from the Food Research and Action Center, only 1 in 13 low-income students in Kentucky who need summer meals participate in the Summer Food Service Program, placing us 48th nationally on this indicator.
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These programs are underutilized for various reasons — stigma, red tape, transportation challenges and systems— and are too often handled piecemeal by a confusing array of public and private agencies. The end result: Hundreds of thousands of kids in Kentucky grapple with hunger, especially after school and during summer when they don’t have access to food at school.
With funding from Share Our Strength and the Governor’s Office of Agricultural Policy, the Kentucky Association of Food Banks established the KY Kids Eat campaign to increase participation in SFSP. Campaign participants include the Kentucky Department for Public Health, University of Kentucky Extension Nutrition Education, Jefferson County Public Schools and nonprofits such as God’s Pantry Food Bank and Dare to Care Food Bank, among others.
The KY Kids Eat campaign is working to connect Kentucky’s most vulnerable children with food where they live, learn and play. Increasing participation in the program also increases the flow of previously authorized and appropriated funds to our communities. These funds stimulate our economy and provide long-term benefits to our state.
The fight against child hunger has long enjoyed bipartisan support. We urge our members of Congress to strengthen the program through the pending child nutrition reauthorization. Strategic and thoughtful investments in the SFSP can bolster our capacity to serve even more children and close the summer hunger gap in Kentucky.
Parents and guardians can text FOOD to 877-877 to find a summer meals location. More information is also available at KyKidsEat.org.
Reid Livingston is the Kentucky Association of Food Banks NO Kid Hungry KY coordinator.