Alicia was excited to see asparagus at a Mobile Pantry she visited this spring. Her late grandpa was a potato farmer who also grew asparagus, and Alicia’s son loved helping him harvest the stalks each year.
“Seeing the asparagus cheered me up,” she said. “I knew my son would be happy about getting it because it would remind him of grandpa. It’s the silly little things that make you think of somebody.”
In addition to asparagus, Alicia received plenty of other groceries that enabled her to put nourishing food on her three kids’ plates.
“I really like the fact that you get a lot of fresh vegetables and milk,” she said.
Alicia heard the Mobile Pantry was coming to town through a text update from her children’s school. At that time, she was recovering from the flu and from throwing out her back, so her hours had been cut from her job at an adult foster care home. Her kids receive free meals at school and participate in an after-school snack program as well, but when emergencies happen, these resources aren’t always enough.
Having the option to visit Mobile Pantries when she needs a little extra help “makes it a little easier,” she said.
When School’s Out, More Kids Face Hunger
Like Alicia, many parents across West Michigan and the Upper Peninsula rely on various hunger-relief programs to help nourish their children. During the school year, these programs include free or reduced-price breakfasts and lunches as well as weekend or evening meal programs.
When school ends, most of these resources suddenly disappear. Mobile Food Pantries and traditional food pantries can help, but can’t completely replace regular school meals.
Meet Up & Eat Up (also known as the Summer Food Service Program—SFSP) is run through the Michigan Department of Education and aims to fill this gap by ensuring our youngest community members have at least one free, ready-to-eat meal per weekday from June to August. But in regions where fewer than 50 percent of kids are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals, this program is not offered, meaning some kids in need miss out. Only 15 percent of children accessed summer meals in Michigan in 2019, yet 50 percent qualified for free and reduced-price school lunch.
That’s one reason why the food bank is aiming to increase programming for kids, particularly in summer, when fewer resources are available. One of these programs—called Gather 2 Grow—will be similar to Meet Up & Eat Up. At Gather 2 Grow sites, anyone 18 or younger will receive nourishing meals throughout the summer, even if their community doesn’t reach that 50 percent free and reduced-price lunch threshold.
How We Can Fight Summer Hunger in Our Communities
In addition to supporting Feeding America West Michigan’s work to fill kids’ plates, community members in West Michigan and the Upper Peninsula can urge Congress to pass Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR) legislation—the process Congress uses to update child nutrition programs, like SFSP. Through CNR, Congress has a pathway to strengthen child nutrition programs and help improve the health, nutrition and well-being of children in our community.
CNR is supposed to be passed every five years, but it has not been updated since 2010! This means many programs are out-of-date.
Here are two things our national organization, Feeding America, is advocating for:
- Strengthen sites by improving area eligibility
Lowering the area eligibility threshold from 50 percent free or reduced-price breakfast and lunch to 40 percent means more communities can distribute summer meals.
- Allow alternate feeding models
SFSP only allows kids to eat meals at designated locations. More kids could access food if they could use alternative, off-site modes, including mobile feeding programs, or the Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer program—which gives parents money on their EBT card to spend on kids’ meals.
Story written by Communication and Marketing Specialist Juliana Ludema.