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Fighting summer hunger

SemiNative

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As the school year comes to a close, many teachers worry that the lazy days of summer will erode the academic achievement of the kids in their classes. Teachers send kids away with homework to avoid the summer slide of skills. Studies show that students can lose about two months of math or reading skills during the break.

But there’s more they stand to lose: The guarantee of a nutritionally balanced meal also disappears with the removal of the structured learning environment. According to the Kids Count Data Center, just over 381,000 kids in Colorado were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch in 2016. Joanna Wise, marketing and communications director for Care and Share Food Bank for Southern Colorado, says that in El Paso County alone, more than 46,000 kids received free or reduced-price lunches in the 2016-17 school year.

Back in February, the new U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos cracked a joke about the government program: “I ... pride myself on being called a mother, a grandmother, a life partner, and perhaps the first person to tell Bernie Sanders to his face that there’s no such thing as a free lunch.”

Thankfully, these programs do not fall under her purview (they are a function of the Department of Agriculture). Because feeding children is no laughing matter.
During the school year, Wise says Care and Share partners with schools for the Send Hunger Packing program. Kids who are in danger of going hungry on the weekends are sent home with a backpack filled with food. While the program used to send enough for the child to eat, Wise says that hungry kids are part of a family who share the same need, so the backpacks are now filled with enough food to care for a family.

Things are different in the summer. “Children are most vulnerable when they’re not in school,” she says.

Care and Share continues their efforts by providing meals from May 31 through the first week of August at 14 summer food sites, seven of which are in Colorado Springs. The sites (community centers, YMCAs, etc.) provide a free meal to any child ages 1 to 18. “It’s a no-judgment zone,” says Wise. Kids don’t have to prove they need the meal, they just need to show up. Some of the sites also sell reduced-cost meals to adults. (To find a site and schedule, contact Care and Share or look at kidsfoodfinder.org.)

Last year, Care and Share sites in El Paso County provided 851 kids with 26,919 snacks and meals. In addition to these sites, Care and Share runs mobile food pantries through the summers as well. Here, kids can pick up a bag of groceries to bring home to share with their families. Wise says that each week during the summer there are at least two locations with meals and a mobile food pantry.
We’re lucky to have agencies that help care for the needs of children in our community. It’s cliché, but these kids really are our future, and taking care of them should be a concern we all share.
If you’re looking to help, Care and Share always accepts food donations. But a bigger impact comes from monetary donations. Wise says that with Care and Share’s buying power, $1 can purchase eight meals.

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