Helping the whole family overcome summer hunger

It happens every year: The final bell rings, and kids jump up from their desks and run out the door. It’s finally summer vacation – time for three months of fun and relaxation.

But for the thousands of families in the St. Louis region facing food insecurity, summer vacations aren’t filled with such promise. 

Food insecurity – not knowing where your next meal is coming from – impacts nearly 1 in 5 kids in Missouri and Illinois. Often not having enough to eat at home, they rely on breakfast and lunch provided at school – usually for free or at reduced prices – as their only meals for the day. 

Instead of planning vacations and family outings, families facing food insecurity are faced with tough questions about how to feed their kids while school is out.

“Summer is often a stressful time for these families,” says Nicole Hawkins, director of community programs at the St. Louis Area Foodbank. “They’re often making difficult choices between paying for food or other basic necessities such as utilities or child care. Not only is it a burden financially, but it can also be mentally and physically exhausting because there’s added strain on the family.”

This summer, to help these families fill the gap, the Foodbank is launching its new Summer Feeding Program in partnership with schools and community centers in high-need neighborhoods across the region. Families with children in summer programs can sign up to receive a box of food to supplement their meals each week.

Each box contains healthy, versatile items for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks, along with nutrition information and recipe ideas. The weekly rotation includes packaged foods, like ravioli and fruit cups that kids can open and feed themselves, plus other mixes and ingredients for larger family meals.

“If we can help alleviate some of the costs of paying for food for local families, then the money they would have spent on food goes to something else they need,” Hawkins says. “And if we’re giving them nutritious food on top of that, then we’re able to say, ‘We believe in you, we see you and there’s hope because we care about you.’”

The Foodbank designed the Summer Feeding Program as an alternative to other federally funded summer food programs, which traditionally only feed one child one meal at a time. These programs often have age restrictions or require children to finish their entire meal onsite without taking leftovers home to share.

While this may be a viable solution for feeding individual kids, it can reduce the rest of the family’s access to the food they need, Hawkins says. Instead, the Summer Feeding Program ensures that entire families have more to eat throughout the week.

The Foodbank is working closely with the Summer Feeding Program sites to identify families in need and reduce any barriers to participation in the program, such as lack of transportation. They expect to provide about 150,000 meals to local families this summer, with plans to expand the program to more sites in the future.

Each summer, the Foodbank sees an increased need for food donations. This is especially true this year with the launch of the Summer Feeding Program. Kid-friendly foods, including cereals, granola bars and canned fruits and vegetables with pop tops, are in especially high demand

“We want to make sure that these folks have every opportunity they can to be successful and the best versions of themselves,” Hawkins says. “And when you’re hungry, you can’t do that.”

Take action now:

James Taylor
James Taylor