Last week a diverse group of Texas organizations convened in San Antonio to talk about summer childhood hunger.
The Food Research Action Center (FRAC), USDA Southwest Regional Team, Texas Hunger Initiative, Texas Food Bank Network, and CPPP hosted dozens of community-based Texas organizations that gathered to strategize on improving the reach of the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) in Texas. SFSP is the main tool we have to combat hunger in the summer, when children don’t have access to school meals. Like the school nutrition programs, SFSP is funded by the United States Department of Agriculture and administered in Texas by the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA).
Each summer, TDA partners with hundreds of sponsor organizations, ranging from school districts to faith-based organizations to non-profit groups, to operate the program across the state. These sponsors bring meals to individual sites where children convene in the summer, including apartment complexes, bible study groups, YMCA camps, and parks and recreation sites. Unfortunately, in previous years, existing sponsors have only been able to reach a fraction of the children who rely on school lunch and school breakfast during the school year.
USDA decided earlier this year to provide targeted technical assistance to six states with the highest levels of food insecurity and/or lowest historical participation rates in SFSP. Texas falls squarely into that category, with the 9th highest rate of childhood food insecurity in the country and only 11 percent of eligible children participating in SFSP in 2012.
The goal of USDA’s targeted technical assistance is to increase the total number of meals served in Texas by 10 percent this summer. If this goal is attained, it would mean that an additional 2.5 million summer meals would be served to Texas children. SFSP also includes the added benefit of enrichment component in which children who participate in summer meals have access to a planned and supervised activity. Often this includes physical activity, academic enrichment, arts and crafts and other activities to engage children during the summer months.
Like the state itself, the need for summer meals in Texas is huge and diverse. Millions of low-income children in both rural and urban areas of Texas are at heightened risk for food insecurity and poor nutrition during the summer months. The task of getting meals to these students during the summer is enormous, but the organizations that came together in San Antonio on Wednesday brought the energy, knowledge, and resources to ensure that we reach, and even surpass, the 10 percent goal.
For more information on how to get involved in the Summer Food Service Program, visit the Texas Department of Agriculture’s Summer Meals website.