It was Spring Break in Prince George’s County when I visited a community center the Capital Area Food Bank works with — and ever since, I have been grappling with what I discovered there.
The small center attached to an apartment complex is where children spent most of their school break. Rosmery, the site director who plans and implements activities for seniors and children, told me children were arriving at her center during spring break hungry.
Her site didn’t open until 11am during the break and children were showing up without having eaten breakfast. Yet the Capital Area Food Bank was only scheduled to provide her site with one afternoon snack and meal per child per day.
You see, a lot of low-income families rely on schools to provide free breakfast and lunch. When school is out, this resource isn’t available. The center’s situation is an indicator of the high need of the area.
This reality struck me hard.
They say there are seven stages of grief. Upon hearing about how hungry these kids were during spring break, I felt four of those stages:
- Anger – Why didn’t Rosmery think to ask me for extra food? Why hadn’t I thought to send extra food?
- Guilt – Why wasn’t I a better planner — why hadn’t I strategized and predicted this need? Did the same thing happen over Christmas break? Because of my poor planning, two dozen children went hungry over the break when they didn’t have to.
- Despair – What were kids and their families going to do for food for the rest of week? What are they going to do over the summer?
- Hope – There are ways to predict these needs in the future; and resources exist to provide extra support.
The Capital Area Food Bank’s Kids Cafe is an after school resource providing snacks and warm meals to low-income children; but it doesn’t have to be confined to that – especially when we plan for breaks.
By far, summer break is the longest. For almost three months, school breakfast and lunch is not an option for the families and their children. By the measure of Rosmery’s and my planning, that would mean Sunny Side kids would only be assured one meal and a snack a day. That’s unacceptable.
Thankfully there are resources for these times of need.
During the summer, the Capital Area Food Bank uses the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) to help cover the costs of free meals for children & teens. Last summer, afternoon snacks and meals were provided by CAFB sponsorship, and breakfast and lunch were sponsored by the Department of Social Services.
This way, children who spend their days at the centers were assured three full meals a day – almost as if school weren’t out.
However, there is still work to do.
Some kids still go hungry during the summer. A staggering number of children who depend on school breakfast/lunch programs during the school year are not benefiting from the SFSP.
Two reasons: not enough centers provide the program and not enough families are aware of the program.
We can change all that. If your center is interested in using the program, contact me. Or, become a site just for the summer.
If you know children who could benefit from the SFSP program, get in touch with us.
Don’t make the same mistake I did. This is the difference that you can make.