Summer break is meant to be a time of fun, sun, and a break from structured academics.
For many students across the country, however, it also means three months where proper nutrition isn’t a guarantee.
According to a recent video report from the PBS Newshour, nearly 22 million students rely on free or reduced lunches in school. But, the need for help doesn’t end when school’s out.
That’s where programs like Kids’ Cruisin’ Kitchen in Plattesville, Neb. come in.
The program, launched by Omaha’s Foodbank for the Heartland and the Salvation Army, is one of several food truck programs in Nebraska that helps supply students from poor families with lunches during the summer. Every morning, an Omaha-area school district kitchen, with support from the USDA summer meal program, prepares more than 3,000 meals for Kids Cruisin’ Kitchen and other programs to distribute throughout the region.
As one education and poverty expert tells the Newshour, summer programs like these are essential to student development.
“Sometimes schools are providing the only meals that kids get during the week,” says Laura Hatch of the national poverty advocacy group No Kid Hungry. “We know that kids who eat breakfast do better on math tests. We know that serving breakfast as part of the school day can actually keep kids in their seat and lessen absenteeism.”
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Despite best efforts, summer lunch programs still struggle to get meals to every needy student. According to one study, for every 100 Nebraska students eligible for the school lunch program, only eight receive their meals every day during the summer. The gap between students who need help and those who get it is growing across the country, according to the Newshour. Rural areas, where students are more spread out, are usually the hardest to cover.
Even with food programs like Kids Cruisin’ Kitchen, millions of students go hungry every day that they’re out of school. With nearly 14.5 million school-aged kids living in poverty, educators and policymakers are looking for new ways to make sure no child goes hungry. Some suggest alternative solutions, like year-round schooling, could help to ensure students are receiving the nutrition they need.
When it comes to school lunch programs, one thing’s for certain: Poverty isn’t going away anytime soon. To fight its effects, school districts will need to have ongoing conversations with their communities, to find out who is struggling and how schools can help.
For more on school summer lunch programs, check out the full video below: