This opinion piece was recently featured on AJC.com Written by Paul Brown, CEO of Arby’s.
For many kids summer comes with the thrill of anticipation of bike rides swimming vacations and long lazy days hanging out with friends. For nearly one million kids in Georgia, however, it’s a much different story. For those in low income families summers bright promise has been replaced with worry, anxiety and the threat of hunger.
In Georgia, 845,000 children rely on free or reduced priced meals during the school year to meet their nutritional needs, yet only 13.6% participation in summer meal programs. When the school year ends, these meals end as well, making summer the hungriest time of the year for many kids.
For these children, hunger brings serious consequences that last long after the season ends. Summer hunger has an impact on academic achievement, brain development and overall health. Studies also show children from low income families – the same group dependent upon school meals – lose more than two months of reading achievement over the summer months.
National summer meals programs, like the USDA’s Summer Food Service Program were created 40 years ago to help students get nourishment when school is out of session. Under the current program, federally reimbursed meals are available to kids at sites across the country. When the program works well, kids have reliable access to healthy meals.
Unfortunately, the summer meals program doesn’t work effectively or efficiently in most places. As a result, five out of six kids nationally who may need these meals don’t get them.
Barriers are many. Parents don’t know the program exist. Excessive red tape discourages many organizations from becoming meal sites. Kids are required to eat their meals at the sites but with parents at work and school buses out of service, transportation can be impossible. In rural areas and the suburbs, kids can live miles away from meal sites.
We can do better. This is not only the right thing to do. It’s also the smart thing to do.
When kids get the food they need, it does more than simply nourish them for days ; it builds a smarter, stronger, healthier generation. We’re unlocking their potential to become the next CEO, engineer, professor, innovator, athlete or small business owner.
The model is stale and children here in Georgia and in every pocket of our country hurts because of it. Can you imagine if we ran our businesses for 40 years with no change? We should be innovating vigorously around ending childhood hunger in America.
While we have much more work to do, the Arbys Foundation brought that model of thinking to the solvabale issues of childhood hunger and teamed up with Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hunger Campaign to tackle Summer Hunger. In the last four years, this public/ private partnership has raised more than $12.4 million. Together, we built on the work of the current summer meals program, leveraging the power of the private sector to scale the work and reach more kids in need across the country, including here in Atlanta this summer.
In 2015 Congress has the power through the Children Nutrition Reauthorization process to make changes that will lead to more kids getting food they need. By building more flexibility into The Summer Meals Program and helping it to run more effectively and efficiently in our cites, suburbs and rural communities, we can make sure members of our youngest generation get the basic nourishment they need.
Companies have a unique skill set to bring to this fight and a stake in making sure we are building a strong work force for tomorrow. This will not happen if kids aren’t able to get the food they need today.
We can create transformative change and ensure a bright future for Georgia and for the nation.