No Kid Hungry This Summer
By Sara Gold
“Summer vacation” conjures up powerful images in our collective consciousness. I see daylight that lasts well into the evening and hear the ice cream truck winding up and down the grid of neighborhood streets. Screened windows and doors are open and the air is fresh, warm, and alive with the buzz of summer. School is out. Time to play. All is well.
And yet, for many kids in the Detroit area, the reality of a stress-free summer vacation filled with these experiences is not possible. This is evidenced as well as anywhere by the number of children that are “food insecure,” meaning that the household struggled to access adequate nutritious food during some point in the year. For families that rely on free and reduced-price school meals during the school year, the summer months can strain the family food budget, and the risk of food insecurity is elevated.
In 2012, Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap study found that 22.3 percent of children in Wayne County were food insecure. Although food insecurity is a measure of access to nutritious food, it is also a proxy for a biological state indelibly linked to health: hunger. The connections between hunger and health are well documented. Children and adults who are hungry face increased mental and physical health challenges, many of which follow children into adulthood.
These statistics make me sad and angry, and they used to make me feel helpless. Where to start? When it comes to childhood hunger during the summer months, the United Way for Southeastern Michigan, through the work of Michigan No Kid Hungry, is supporting real solutions.
Michigan No Kid Hungry, a statewide public/private partnership, is increasing access to and participation in federal child nutrition programs including the summer meals program, which is known as “Meet Up and Eat Up.” By maximizing participation in these programs, we can help eliminate childhood hunger with tools we have at our disposal today. Over the last two years, we’ve gathered stakeholders to form the Detroit Chapter of Michigan No Kid Hungry and have worked in collaboration to spread the word and improve the quality of meals served to kids at the hundreds of Meet Up and Eat Up sites in Detroit.
Last summer, the Detroit Chapter increased the number of meals served by 30 percent. Although we are focused on nutritious food, we found that Meet Up and Eat Up is actually helping to build community by ensuring that there are enough safe, engaging sites for kids to come together to eat.
Seems pretty simple: Summer vacation begins, and with schools closed kids can get together to eat at Meet Up and Eat Up sites in their communities at parks, schools, recreation centers, and churches. However, in Michigan, only about 15 percent of the kids who eat free or reduced price school lunches are also eating meals in the summer. We need everyone’s help to spread the word. Meet Up and Eat Up is more than a program, it’s a movement!
Once school is out, there are various ways to let families know about where to find Meet Up and Eat Up sites:
- Call 2-1-1
- Text FOODMI to 877877
- Look up the sites closest to an address here: http://www.mcgi.state.mi.us/schoolnutrition/
- Download a Meet Up and Eat Up flyer to hand out in your community or through your organization HERE.
Sara Gold is director of Michigan No Kid Hungry, a partnership of the United Way for Southeast Michigan, Share Our Strength and the State of Michigan. She can be reached at Sara.Gold@liveunitedsem.org