Each school year, some 22 million U.S. children rely on the government's National School Lunch Program for free and reduced-price meals. In summertime, some of those children (about 4 million) receive their meals from the USDA Summer Food Service Program. But as Jessica Jelinski, vice president of equity access at Feeding America, points out, “that leaves 18 million children who may not know where their meals are coming from this summer.”
That number is staggering—and, of course, heartbreaking. After all, “children don’t just stop learning and growing over the summer,” says Jelinski. But you don’t have to stand by and let local kids go hungry. Here are five actions you can take to stop summer hunger, stat.
1. Learn where your community’s needs are.
“Hunger exists in every county in the United States,” Jelinski explains, and the first step to helping hungry kids in your community is to find where they are. Feeding America’s “Map the Meal Gap” study, which was conducted in 2017, shows the number of food insecure people in every U.S. county. It’s a good place to start to see where in your community (or within your region) there may be hungry children—and a need for your help. With this information, you can find food banks in the most food-insecure areas and get involved.
2. Raise funds for hunger.
In this digital age, it’s easier than ever to raise money. For example, setting up a fundraiser on Facebook is as simple as clicking the “fundraisers” link on your homepage—you’ll find it in the same spot you also see links for your news feed, events, and pages—then defining a few criteria, such as who (or what) you’re fundraising for and how much you'd like to raise. “Setting up a fundraiser for Feeding America [also] just takes a few minutes,” Jelinski says. “And every $1 donated helps provide 10 meals throughout the Feeding America nationwide network of food banks—so, your Fundraiser will have a meaningful impact.”
3. Volunteer at a local food bank.
“There are tons of volunteer opportunities—including kid-friendly activities—at your local food bank and pantries where you can make a difference,” says Jelinski, adding volunteer opportunities at food banks might include preparing meals or snack packs, sorting through donations, and much more. Specifically, at Feeding America-network food banks—of which there are over 200 across the U.S.—there are other ways to get involved, Jelinski says, from teaching healthy cooking classes to gathering unharvested crops from regional farms.
4. Talk about it.
Don’t stay silent about child hunger. “Share with your friends and followers on social media your experience fighting hunger and encourage them to do the same,” says Jelinski. Making your experience public not only spreads the word about this often-unknown issue, it also encourages friends, family, and a larger online network to help fight summer hunger. If you prefer not to get too personal online, you can still spread the word about child hunger—Feeding America regularly tweets and shares posts you can simply republish.
5. Advocate for hungry children with your government officials.
“Federal nutrition programs matter, but they are only as strong as the support they receive on Capitol Hill,” says Jelinski. Take the time to express your support of these programs to your state senators and representatives by sending a letter to their offices. (You can easily get the names and addresses of your area representatives here.) You can also invite your senators and representatives to a food bank to see child hunger for themselves.
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