Across Washington, there is an increasing demand for backpacks at local stores, playgrounds are beginning to fill with the sounds of recess and school buses have started hitting the road in full force. For many parents stretching every dollar to meet their families’ basic needs, fall means something simple yet critical: school lunches and breakfasts will be available again.
But how did families fill the gap over the summer? To answer that question for our elected officials, we recently brought Representative Adam Smith (of Washington’s 9th Congressional District) and Representative Rick Larsen ( 2nd District) to summer meal sites within their respective districts. The goal was to show them the value of federally funded locations where families get assistance feeding their kids healthy meals when school is out.
Our first visit was with Rep. Smith at Auburn’s Les Gove Park where we saw a summer meal site in action. The park serves kids from the surrounding neighborhood as well as those who are visiting the play area next to the lawn where the meals are served. The need in Auburn is great, 37.6% of students received free or reduced-price meals in 2010. Their Summer Food Service Program feeds up to 100,000 meals to kids across Auburn by traveling in mini-buses to parks, summer school programs and low-income apartment complexes.
Later that week, we visited Frank Wagner Elementary School in Monroe with Rep. Larsen. The site served over 2,500 meals in just June and July. They frequently see upwards of 100 kids on any given day. Like Auburn’s Les Gove Park and Seattle’s Pratt Park, which we visited earlier with Rep. Jim McDermott (7th District), a big plus is that the meals are handed out right next to a playground. That means kids are fed where they already are, cutting down on their transportation needs and increasing access to meals.
“Nearly one in six families in my Congressional district suffers from hunger,” said Rep. Larsen after the visit. “I am committed to partnering with local organizations across Northwest Washington so we can ensure low-income kids get nutritious food at the times when they are most vulnerable to hunger— during the summer, after school, and on weekends.”
It takes federal dollars to keep these programs running and kids fed during the summer. That’s why we’re advocating for a robust Child Nutrition Reauthorization bill. Before Congress’ recess it passed the Senate, but their version didn’t go far enough to fund summer meal programs. The House already has its own version of the bill which does fund summer meals – but they need to find a way to pay for it before it can go to the floor.
We’re calling on our Representatives to remember the immediate needs addressed in this bill and find a way to fund and pass the house bill. We ask our elected officials to make sure that no child ever feels the pangs of hunger. Passing a robust Child Nutrition Reauthorization bill that includes funding for summer meal programs will help.
-Katie Hewitt, Federal Advocacy Assistant