Back to School Means Back to Consistent Meals for Many Hoosier Children Thanks to Federal Programs
Around Indiana and across the country, children are enjoying the remaining days of freedom before school starts. But for millions of children, back-to-school means more than a return to homework. It means a return to food. 16 percent of Hoosier children are hungry or at risk of hunger.
What many don’t realize is that amid summer’s seeming abundance, child hunger is actually at its worst. While many of us are enjoying the bounty of our gardens or local farmers’ market, low-income families that rely on school meal programs to nourish their children during the school year are struggling to feed their families. Some of these children are able to access meals at summer feeding programs, but the vast majority nationally – almost 90 percent – do not. In Indiana, only 14 percent of kids who get lunch assistance during the school year participate in a summer food program on a typical summer day.
So as our children prepare for a return to school and homework, it’s important to remember that for many of their vulnerable peers, back-to-school also means back to the promise of daily, nutritious meals. 50 percent of Hoosier children participating in the National School Lunch Program receive free or reduced lunches. School meal programs often provide the healthiest and most nourishing meal that a child receives all day. For some children, the program provides their only meal period. That is why it is vitally important that we not only improve the nutritional quality of the food being served to our children, but also expand program access so we can reach more eligible, low-income children. In particular, many communities lack access to school breakfasts and afterschool snacks and suppers.
Child nutrition programs can make a significant difference in a child’s life—protecting their health, improving their ability to learn, providing a sense of security, and ultimately, investing in their future. We have an opportunity to strengthen child nutrition programs this year as Congress considers a child nutrition bill. Unfortunately, we risk missing a critical opportunity to make progress against child hunger if Congress does not act on the legislation before the current law expires September 30. Senator Lugar, an inaugural member of the U.S. Senate Hunger Caucus, has publicly supported moving the bill in the Senate as quickly as possible. Feeding Indiana’s Hungry urges both Senator Bayh and the members of the Indiana House Delegation to take action as well to pass a robust child nutrition bill this year. Our children cannot afford to wait another year for Congress to take strong action to reduce hunger and improve nutrition.
Emily Weikert Bryant is the Executive Director of Feeding Indiana’s Hungry, Inc., the state association of food banks.