It was a beautiful day to eat lunch in Seattle’s Pratt Park last Wednesday where children from the community gather for free lunch during the summer. The day was made even more special because we planned a visit by Congressman Jim McDermott (WA-7) to hand out lunches and talk with the folks who use this incredible program.
“Do you want some milk?” The Congressman asked one of the almost 25 kids who picked up their lunch. Many families use this program to supplement the food they provide at home. That’s why summer meal programs are so important – they reach children whose families are struggling to find room in tight budgets to replace meals kids receive at school during the school year.
“Eating healthy meals is absolutely an essential part of child development. This program fills a huge gap,” said Congressman McDermott.
Pratt Park began serving meals on June 28th and participation has been high. It is one of 90 sites across the city that offers free drop-in food services for children. The funds are cobbled together from a variety of sources, including the federal government, the city and the state.
Unfortunately, this program and programs like it are in peril. Although the need has grown, the number of sites across the state has dropped since last summer. Fewer than 11% of kids who eat free or reduced school meals benefit from summer feeding programs in our state. Especially in these tough times, that has to change. It is absolutely critical that our leaders find ways to fund the programs that put nutritious food in the bellies of our children.
What that means on the federal level is that Congress needs to pass a robust and effective Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR) bill. There are currently two versions of the bill being looked at in Congress, one in the House and one in the Senate. The House version provides more funding to get healthy food onto children’s plates than the Senate version. While there are great gains to be made for kids in both bills, we hope to see the House version passed, and expect them to take up the Senate’s bill when they get back from summer recess.
We applaud Congressman McDermott for making time in his schedule to get an on-the-ground view of why Summer Food Service Programs are so vital. We hope that our Congressmen and women remember the faces of the kids that they serve when recess is over, and finds a responsible way to fund the House version of the bill. Kids can’t wait!
-Posted by Katie Hewitt, Federal Advocacy Assistant