Last year, more than 850,000 North Carolina students were eligible to receive free or reduced-priced meals at school through the National School Lunch Program. Of that number, a mere 82,830 received meals during the summer months through summer nutrition programs. In other words, 90 percent of the state’s economically disadvantaged, school-age children may have experienced hunger during the summer months.
State Superintendent June Atkinson said, “The summer break should be an enjoyable time for students. Unfortunately, that may not be the case for many students because of hunger. It’s important for these students and their parents to be aware of the programs that could provide them with nutritious, appealing meals.”
School Nutrition Services Chief Lynn Harvey said that currently only 10 out of every 100 students who are economically disadvantaged in North Carolina receive meals during the summer months. “It is critical that we partner with organizations across the state to expand the number of meal sites so we can provide meals to students who need them,” Harvey said.
One of top priorities for School Nutrition Services staff at the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction is to promote student’s overall health, well-being and academic success. To achieve this priority, staff partner with parents and communities and other child advocacy organizations throughout the school year and during the summer months when school is not in session. One of the department’s most important summer collaborations is the Summer Nutrition Programs, which provide appealing meals to students in their communities.
The Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and Seamless Summer Option (SSO) were established by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to ensure economically disadvantaged children continue to receive nutritious meals when school is not in session.
Additionally, the USDA has identified 47 counties in North Carolina as high priority or “Strike Force” counties. The Strike Force campaign is intended to leverage local partnerships in high poverty areas to ensure every community’s children has equal access to summer nutrition programs. This past summer, North Carolina had 166 sponsoring agencies and 2,208 summer nutrition sites where children could receive nutritious meals at no cost. Harvey said that although this is a good start, the need for summer nutrition sponsoring agencies and sites is at an all-time high.
In addition to public school districts, the SFSP allows qualifying public and private non-profit organizations to participate as a sponsor and receive federal reimbursement. The meals must be served to eligible children 18 years of age or younger, at an approved site. A site may be an open site, closed enrolled site or camp. The meals served at all sites must be provided at no charge to all children regardless of race, color, national origin, sex, age or disability.