PETERSBURG, VA, June 7, 2016 – Today, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Education Secretary John B. King, Jr. joined students and other stakeholders at Robert E. Lee Elementary School in Petersburg, Virginia to celebrate the start of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) summer meal programs. The two secretaries were joined by Virginia First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe and Virginia's Secretary of Education Anne Holton to raise awareness of the importance and availability of summer meals for children and teens.
"USDA has been committed to closing the food insecurity gap that occurs in the summer months when children no longer have access to the nutritious meals they're offered in school," said Secretary Vilsack. "We're proud to have served more than 1.2 billion meals through the summer meals programs during our administration -- fueling kids and teens to be physically active, take advantage of summer enrichment opportunities, and thrive throughout the summer and when they return to school in the fall."
In a joint letter, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Education Secretary King urge local leaders to make sure that children do not go hungry this summer. Among the ways to help, they outline providing summer meals to children at schools and community centers this summer; sharing information about nearby summer meal sites; and serving as a community champion.
"While many students look forward to the end of the school year and summer enrichment opportunities, for far too many students, summer means hunger," said Education Secretary King. "Working with USDA, we are grateful for the schools across the country who open their doors to provide children with healthy meals, even when the school year is over."
This year, USDA's summer meals programs are partnering with the Department of Education and Department of Labor to promote the Summer Opportunity Project, a White House initiative to expand opportunities for youth throughout the summer. The summer meals programs play an important role in achieving this goal by ensuring youth's most basic needs for food and nourishment are met, allowing them to focus on pursuing and leveraging summer opportunities.
USDA is working with local, state, and national partners to communicate the location of summer meals sites to teens participating in summer youth employment programs. They are also encouraging sites to create opportunity offering physical and enrichment activities to keep children and teens engaged with their environment. They also created a series of free materials – Summer Food, Summer Moves – to provide ideas and examples.
Across the nation, approximately 22.1 million students receive free and reduced-price meals through the National School Lunch Program. But only about 1 in 6 of those (approximately 3.8 million) participate in the summer meals programs. That is the critical gap that the summer meals programs work to fill. In 2015, there were more than 66,000 meal sites serving over 190 million meals. Virginia alone had 1,500 approved summer meal sites that provided over 4 million meals to kids and teens across the state.
"In Virginia, about 87 percent of students who rely on free or reduced price school meals miss out on summer meal programs each day," said Mrs. McAuliffe. "We can and must do more to increase participation in these programs and connect more kids with the healthy food they need to be successful."
USDA's Summer Meal Site Finder makes it easy for families to locate their nearest summer meals sites through a free, web-based application that features an easily-searchable map. Families can also identify nearby sites by calling 1-866-348-6479 (English) or 1-877-842-6273 (Spanish) or using a text service operated by a USDA partner by texting FOOD (English) or COMIDA (Spanish) to 877-877.
This is just one of many advances USDA has made to the summer meal programs and its other nutrition assistance programs over the last seven years. Other examples include updated nutrition standards for school meals in line with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans; an updated food package for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children; and finalizing science based standards for meals served in the Child and Adult Care Food Program. In total, USDA administers 15 nutrition assistance programs that, together, comprise America's nutrition safety net.