Apple slices. Juice boxes. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. As a mother of three, I have made a lot of school lunches over the years. Sometimes I made them the night before, sometimes I made them last minute in the morning. I never missed a day.
Too many North Carolina children are at risk of missing a day of lunch — not because their parents simply forget to make it, but because so many North Carolina families are struggling to make ends meet. Far too often, food becomes the “fall guy,” the place where families cut back so they can keep a roof over their heads and pay for other necessary expenses, like utilities and childcare. One in four children in Northwest North Carolina lives in a food insecure family.
School administrators, teachers and support staff recognize this problem and work hard to ensure that children in need have access to free and reduced meals through the Federal School Lunch Program during the school year. It is no small feat for the school system: in Ashe County, 62.5 percent of children income-qualify for these free meals. School meals have become central and essential to not just the children they feed, but to our communities as a whole.
During the summer months, however, only 7 percent of these children have access to similar summer meal programs in Ashe County, leaving nearly 1,794 children at risk of hunger. Just as schools rise to the challenge of providing daily nutritious meals to children in need during the academic year, we, as responsible adults, must rise to that same challenge and provide for our community’s children during the summer.
In addition to our year round work with over 450 on-the-ground partner programs including school pantries, kids cafes and BackPack programs, Second Harvest’s Childhood Hunger Programs team seasonally amps up our work to fill in the summer meal gap. We coordinate 27 summer meal sites across 6 counties, bringing the fruits and veggies that children need to grow and thrive through the summer. That way, we know they are returning to school in the fall ready to learn.
My own children are now grown; they have graduated college and made families of their own. While I may no longer pack their lunches, I do go to work each day knowing that my team is working hard to make lunches happen for all the children of our communities. Of course, we can’t do this work without support from the communities we serve and people like you. Your gifts of time, food, and dollars are essential to our efforts to fill the support meal gap. Every $1 you give provides seven nutritious meals, and through June 30, generous supporters of our work will match your generosity to do double the good for kids this summer. Together, we can be sure that all our children can eat lunch every day.
Daisy Rodriguez, director of Childhood Hunger Programs, Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest North Carolina