Around the country, children are excited for the fun and freedom of summer. But for low-income children in Larimer County, summer can mean an uncertainty of where their meals will come from. Lack of adequate nutrition during the summer can have a long-lasting, negative impact on students. Studies report that children who lack access to adequate nutrition during the summer loose more than two months in reading and math progress. In the long term, lack of proper nutrition during the summer negatively impacts high school graduation rates. Additionally, these children are more likely to gain weight during the summer months due to inactivity and the fact that parents with limited means purchase less-expensive, calorie-dense foods.
Approximately 14,000 low-income children in Larimer County receive free or reduced-price lunches during the school year. To meet their needs during the summer months, we would need to serve 616,000 lunches. Last year, groups throughout the county served 59,858.
To address this overwhelming gap, the Food Bank for Larimer County’s Kids Cafe program works with the federal government to provide free summer meals to low-income children through the Summer Food Service Program. Summer sites provide nutritious, balanced meals to food insecure children and enrichment and physical activities, nourishing children’s minds and bodies when school is out. This summer, we will work with partners like Northside Aztlan Community Center, Estes Park Elementary and Base Camp. We’ve also added sites, the Matthews House at the Genesis Project and Peace with Christ Lutheran Church, for a total of 11 sites this summer. With new sites, we’re hoping to serve 500 additional children – a 50% increase over last year. We’re doing our best to close the gap, but with existing resources and limited partnership opportunities, we are restricted in the number of children we can help.
Summer feeding programs – where available – are essential to closing the summer hunger gap, and Congress should make it easier for community organizations like food banks to operate summer programs. But we need more flexibility to be able to reach children who don’t have access to a site. Program regulations say the only way we can feed children is if they consume a meal on site, but our community could protect far more children from hunger if we were allowed to send meals home.
Congress has the opportunity to close the summer hunger gap when they rewrite the Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR) this fall. As Coloradans, we are in a unique position to advocate for children. The CNR is drafted in part by the House Education and Workforce Committee. The Senate’s version is created by the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry. Senator Michael Bennet and Representative Jared Polis sit on these committees.
How can you help? First, learn more about CNR on Feeding America’s website. Next, join our advocacy group (email: firstname.lastname@example.org) to receive updates and important messages to share with elected officials. Finally, share this information with your network to raise awareness and ensure every child in our community has the chance to succeed.