For children across Ohio, summer break is beginning, and for many families that means vacations and summer camps and barbecues.
But for too many, it also means stress over how to care for children while parents work, or how to feed children nutritious meals without the school lunches they count on throughout the rest of the year. Hundreds of thousands of Ohio students rely on the school lunch program, and many of them don’t have access to healthy and filling meals when school cafeterias close for the summer.
Summer break shouldn’t mean going hungry.
That’s why every year we work to get the word out about the Summer Food Service Program, and why I’m working to expand it.
Today we are serving more meals than ever before. But while these sites are helping tens of thousands of children, we are still not reaching enough of the Ohio students who rely on free and reduced-price school lunches during the school year.
We need to do all we can to raise public awareness of these programs so that families know the end of the school year doesn’t mean an end to food services for their children.
Childhood hunger is not only an issue in just our biggest cities. Hunger is present in our rural communities across Ohio, and recent articles have shown that reliance on these important anti-hunger programs is increasing in our suburbs.
Parents can visit my website, brown.senate.gov, or visit education.ohio.gov to see a list of the more than 1,300 Summer Feeding sites across Ohio, and to get information on how to sponsor a new site.
And to make sure more children have access to this program, I authored bipartisan legislation to expand the summer food service program and ensure it reaches more children who need it.
This year, the Senate Agriculture Committee included my Hunger Free Summer for Kids Act in legislation to reauthorize child nutrition programs. It would allow the Department of Agriculture to issue monthly vouchers to families who have trouble accessing summer feeding sites. When school buses are idled for the summer, many children — particularly in rural areas — have no way to get to the churches and recreation centers and parks where meals are served.
The bill would also allow children to pick up meals and eat them off the premises, providing flexibility for busy parents who are often juggling work and child care while their children are out of school.
And it would cut red tape that organizations often face, streamlining the paperwork and application processes that are hurdles for schools, faith-based groups, and other organizations trying to serve students.
These organizations offer healthy meals and enrichment activities, and provide a safe place for Ohio children. Families need to know about these sites, and the dedicated folks who run them.
Summer vacation shouldn’t mean our children going hungry, and that’s why the Summer Food Service Program is so important for our families and for our state.
Sherrod Brown is a Democratic U.S. Senator from Ohio.