Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Education Secretary John B. King, Jr., Virginia Congressman and Ranking Member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce Robert C. "Bobby" Scott, Virginia First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe and Virginia's Secretary of Education Anne Holton celebrated the start of the summer meals program at Robert E. Lee Elementary School in Petersburg, Virginia, on June 7.
What is the summer meals program?
During the school year, about 22 million students rely on the free and reduced-price meals from the National School Lunch Program, said King during a conference call. When school is out for the summer, many of those students may not have access to nutritious meals. The summer meal program is partnering with the Department of Education and Department of Labor to promote the Summer Opportunity Project, a White House initiative to expand opportunities for youth and provide a safe place for students to gather and be active during summer months.
"While many students look forward to the end of the school year and summer enrichment opportunities, for far too many students, summer means hunger," King said.
How many students utilize the summer meals program?
In 2015, more than 190 million meals were served at more than 66,000 sites, Vilsack said. The goal is to grow the number of meals and locations where meals are served. About 3.8 million students participated.
"We're proud to have served more than 1.2 billion meals through the summer meals programs during our administration -- fueling kids and teens to be physically active, take advantage of summer enrichment opportunities, and thrive throughout the summer and when they return to school in the fall," Vilsack said.
Who can host a site?
King asked communities to join in the program. He asked districts to open their schools to the summer meal program and to share information with families about where to access summer meal programs. Libraries, community centers and churches are other host sites.
Why is the program important?
Not only is nutrition important to raising healthy kids, providing a place to gather with activities helps prevent the summer slide, McAuliffe said. The summer slide is a loss of academic growth over the summer months. In Virginia, they have increased the number of summer host sites and they are working to find more.
"In Virginia, about 87% of students who rely on free or reduced price school meals miss out on summer meal programs each day," McAuliffe said. "We can and must do more to increase participation in these programs and connect more kids with the healthy food they need to be successful."
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack serves breakfast to students at Robert E. Lee Elementary in Petersburg, Virginia, on June 7, 2016. Secretary Vilsack was at the school for the kick off of USDA's Summer Food Program. (Photo: USDA photo/Eric Peters)
How do you locate a summer meal site?
USDA's Summer Meal Site Finder makes it easy for families to locate their nearest summer meals sites through a free, web-based application that features an easily-searchable map. Families can also identify nearby sites by calling 1-866-348-6479 (English) or 1-877-842-6273 (Spanish) or using a text service operated by a USDA partner by texting FOOD (English) or COMIDA (Spanish) to 877-877.