For Many Tennessee Kids, Hunger Doesn’t Take Summer Vacation

PHOTO: Tennessee saw a tiny decline in students participating in summer nutrition programs from 2012 to 2013, while nationally there was an increase of nearly six percent. Photo credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture.

PHOTO: Tennessee saw a tiny decline in students participating in summer nutrition programs from 2012 to 2013, while nationally there was an increase of nearly six percent. Photo credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture.

For thousands of low-income families in Tennessee, summer vacation is a time of increased hunger, as children don’t have their usual school meals to rely on. Signe Anderson, Senior Child Nutrition Policy Analyst with the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), says a new study conducted by her organization shows participation in summer nutrition programs in Tennessee fell slightly from 2012 to 2013. Nationally, numbers went up after the hit many programs took during the recession. “During the economic downturn, a lot of schools shut their doors and no longer offered summer school,” says Anderson. “So along with that, summer meals disappeared because meal programs are often set up in conjunction with summer school programs.” Last year the number of Tennessee kids in summer nutrition programs slipped by about a half-percent to 5,600. That represents only about 13 percent of the children in the state who receive free and reduced-price lunches during the school year. According to Anderson, another way to reach those kids going without regular meals during the summer is through local parks and recreation programs. “Kids are often in parks and enjoying the outdoors, and ideally you want them outside and active in a safe space,” says Anderson. “Working with parks and recreation departments has also been a good avenue, along with area YMCAs and Boys and Girls Clubs.” Nationally, the average daily participation in summer meal programs rose about six percent from 2012 to 2013, and now reaches nearly three million children. Anderson notes that in addition to nutritious food, summer meal programs also help children with enrichment and recreational activities that keep them engaged, learning, and safe during summer vacation.