After four consecutive years of growth in summer meal program participation, 153,000 fewer children were served in summer 2016 compared to the previous year, a drop of 4.8 percent. That was the bottom-line conclusion reached by the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC) in its summer nutrition status report, Hunger Doesn’t Take a Vacation, released this month.
Meanwhile, FRAC found that school-year participation in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) in 2016 increased by 119,000. “The summer programs served only 15 children for every 100 low-income children who participated in NSLP during the regular school year, a decrease from 15.8 to 100 the previous year,” the report observes.
FRAC cites several potential causes for the drop, such as the limited number of basic summer programs for low-income children at which summer meals are provided at sites such as schools, recreation centers, YMCAs, Boys & Girls Clubs, churches and parks. These programs are usually offered alongside educational and enrichment activities.
Other potential causes include limited transportation in rural and more spread-out areas and the short duration of the summer, which forces the schools, local government agencies and private nonprofit organizations that sponsor summer nutrition programs to scramble to develop and launch what is in effect a six- to eight-week program.
The report also tabulated summer meal participation by state and found that 28 of the 50, as well as the District of Columbia (DC), saw drops in 2016.
Despite the drop, DC still led the pack in the number of children its summer nutrition program reached compared to regular school year free/reduced NSLP participation. The other four top performers were New Mexico, Vermont, New York and Maine. The bottom five, in descending order, were Kentucky, Texas, Mississippi, Nebraska and Oklahoma.