Fallout from the ongoing pandemic, the resulting economic challenges, and world events are being felt by all of us. It doesn’t need to be that way. However, as is often the case, our most vulnerable families and children are the ones whose lives continue to be hardest hit by these challenges. It doesn’t need to be that way.
Many families had only just begun to achieve some measure of stability in their circumstances, managing through debt, loss, on-going challenges with childcare, and more, when the grip of inflation began to take hold, adding to their burdens. Unfortunately, this summer will bring another blow to many of these families when government nutrition assistance policies result in less food being available and accessible for our region’s children.
With federal child nutrition waivers in place in 2020 and 2021, Second Harvest Food Bank, along with our partner food assistance agencies, local schools, and other community groups, learned what we can accomplish when we have flexibility to work together creatively to reach more children. As examples, we could deliver meals in rural communities instead of requiring children to come together at a specific location, and we could allow children to bring home multiple meals to share with siblings rather than making the whole family come to a central meal site to “prove” that more than one child resides in the household. Together, with previous barriers out of the way, we had been able to reach more children and give them the good nutrition they need every day.
In 2020 at the height of COVID, in collaboration with 72 partners, Second Harvest Food Bank provided over 566,000 healthy, prepared meals for children. With the pending expiration of federal child nutrition waivers, two-thirds of these partners will no longer be operating their community-based programs. With child nutrition waivers set to expire on June 30, 2022, we will see a return to a significant “Summer Meal Gap.” A return to a reality where so many children won’t have access to summer result and to too many of our youngest community members will go without.
Before federal child nutrition waivers, only 17 percent of children in North Carolina who were eligible for free or reduced-price school meal were able to access meals through the summer meal programs. In North Carolina, Share Our Strength-No Kid Hungry estimates that over 250,000 children will lose access to meals this summer if the child nutrition waivers are not extended.
For years, Second Harvest Food Bank and our like-minded allies in the work of hunger-relief have advocated for more program flexibility to reach more children during out-of-school times. Now that we know we can further reduce child hunger, will we? Congress has the power to do just this - and make a huge difference for millions of kids and families across the country. Our elected representatives (and let’s remember, they represent us!) must invest in and expand proven tools and programs to get more meals to more kids and families. If you believe as we do that every child deserves to eat, every meal, every day, I ask you to make your voice heard.
Feeding America, of which Second Harvest Food Bank is a member, is making it easy for you to tell Congress: End Child Hunger Now! You can sign your name to our letter to Congress here: bit.ly/3HaIgMD
Through this summer, as always, Second Harvest Food Bank will do all within our power to nourish children today, tomorrow, and into the next school year. A generous group of Second Harvest supporters, hoping to inspire gifts of support to this mission work, are matching all gifts dollar-for-dollar that are made to our Food Bank through the end of June. You can learn more about this, as well as our many volunteer opportunities at SecondHarvestNWNC.org.