Across the country, schools are getting out for the summer. And while students will be happy for the break, some parents will be fretting about how to feed their children without meals provided at school.
The hot summer months bring a fresh challenge for food banks in the nation's poorest and hungriest counties: making sure that millions of children get regular, healthy meals when they aren't in school.
"The time of year in the United States [that] an American child is most likely to go hungry is the summertime, and the principal reason for that is school is out," said Kevin Concannon, undersecretary for food, nutrition and consumer services with the Department of Agriculture.
That often means summer vacations—not the winter holidays—are the busiest time of year for food banks, because they are struggling to fill the gap for children who are not getting regular meals through federally funded school lunch programs and other services.
"We know hunger, just generally across the board, is a bigger problem in summer," said Celia Cole, CEO of the Texas Food Bank Network, which represents regional food banks across the state.
Texas is home to six of the 10 counties in the U.S. with the highest rate of childhood food insecurity in 2011, according to data to be released next week by Feeding America, a nationwide network of food banks. Nearly 1.9 million children, or 27.6 percent of kids in Texas, were living in households without enough to eat, the organization said.
Many food banks see summer as a time to meet their most important need.
"There is just nothing better that we could be doing than feeding a child," said Eric Cooper, CEO of the San Antonio Food Bank. It serves 16 southwest Texas counties, including Zavala County, where nearly 50% of children were food-insecure in 2011, according to Feeding America.
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A household is considered to be food-insecure if at times they had difficulty providing enough food for everyone in the family because of a lack of resources.
The San Antonio Food Bank and its partners will distribute more than 300,000 meals to kids through the USDA's Summer Food Service Program. But that will take care of only about 10 percent of the kids who get meals when school is in session, Cooper said.
Not Just Texas
That situation is reflected nationally, as well. About 21.4 million children receive free or reduced-price lunches on a typical school day, according to the USDA. Some of the nation's neediest kids also receive breakfast, snacks, dinner and even backpacks of weekend food through school and after-school programs.
But last summer, only about 3 million kids were fed through the summer program, which provides meals to kids via school and community organizations, Concannon said.