Nearly 400,000 students in Los Angeles Unified School District receive a free or reduced meal during the school day according to Ed-Data. When the school year ends, many families will struggle to replace this food for their children and increases their risk of hunger and experiencing food insecurity. In California 86% of children who typically receive a free or reduced meal during the school day will miss lunch during the summer, according to California Food Policy Advocates. Some research also shows that obesity rates increase over the summer as families rely on cheaper, high calorie but low quality food to feed the higher number of individuals at home.
The federal summer nutrition programs help provide low-income children with year-round access to meals and snacks that support optimal health and learning. The Los Angeles Food Bank’s Summer Lunch Program will serve more than 3,000 meals a day at more than 50 distribution sites, including Boys and Girls Clubs, summer schools, community centers, the Salvation Army and some libraries. Los Angeles has a number of programs available to students who experience food insecurity without school-sponsored lunches. Participating entities in Los Angeles for 2019 can be found at this listing of Summer Meal Sites. As part of the Summer at the Library, the Los Angeles Public Library also partners with the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank to provide free lunches to youth at select Library locations. The Los Angeles Department of Recreations and Parks are also participating in Free Summer Lunch programs, which include free lunch, and programming for kids and teenagers.
Despite these programs, nearly 9 out of the 10 students who receive a free or reduced meal during the school day go without during the summer months. Experts point to reliable transportation as a key barrier and add that programs that offer meals without additional programming may not be enough of an allure to entice parents and caregivers to bring their children, given the competing demands on their time and resources. Other reasons these resources aren’t more fully taken advantage of include possible discomfort or embarrassment by older children and teens that may be cognizant of receiving public services.
To address these challenges, some programs are experimenting with electronic fund transfer to provide SNAP-like benefits to families over the summer, culinary camps and classes for kids that provide educational programming in addition to food, and weekly meal delivery services to reach more rural or otherwise difficult-to-reach families. No Kid Hungry is experimenting with a texting service to reach families who may not know where nearby summer meal opportunities are located.
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