Hunger Never Takes a Break!
Why Child Nutrition Programs are Important
Many parents are looking forward to the end of the school year and the memories they’ll make with their children this summer. But parents of the one in four Georgia children who face food insecurity see the upcoming break in classes through a different lens—the end of the school year means the end of free school meals, and they’ll be challenged to provide enough food for their families. This is the reality for thousands of families in Georgia.
For decades, the Atlanta Community Food Bank has partnered with the Junior League of Atlanta, Inc. (JLA) through several programs. Our partnership has now taken on even more meaning thanks to their generous gift of a $380,000 Centennial Grant for our Child Nutrition Programs.
Studies show that proper nutrition is critical to a child’s physical and emotional development. Unfortunately, food insecurity is an obstacle that threatens that critical foundation. Consider this—-many of our future leaders and teachers don’t always have the necessary food to help them learn, grow and play. Schools serve as one of the main places where those children can receive healthy, nutritious meals like breakfast and lunch. The Food Bank’s three key initiatives being implemented to help increase access to nutrition for children are our School Breakfast Initiative, School Pantry Program and Summer Meals Program. The goal of the Child Nutrition Programs is to identify and implement strategies to reduce food insecurity for children in the Food Bank’s 29-county service area.
The Summer Meals Program will allow the Food Bank to provide direct access to summer meals for children whose families are served through our network, while also working closely with community and school partners to identify and implement locations where children can eat a meal. During the summer months, only 15% of children in Georgia who participate in the National School Lunch Program participate in a summer meal program.
Starting in June, we will have 10 summer meal sites where children and their parents can have a healthy meal while also receiving boxes of food items and fresh produce to take home through our School Pantry Program model. Access to meals during the summer ensures that children from food insecure homes are ready to go back to school on par with their peers and can begin the school year ready to learn.
The School Pantry Program consists of several models to provide food for children and their families. School-based pantries provide an easily accessible source of nutritious food in a convenient location. The program serves families in schools with 50% or higher free or reduced lunch rates. This program allows families access to both shelf-stable and fresh produce, as well as recipes with detailed preparation instructions for all the items they get. This program serves as a great supplemental source of nutrition to help ensure children in the schools we serve are eating healthy nutritious food.
Research demonstrates the importance of providing breakfast to children and youth. Children who eat a nutritious breakfast tend to perform better in school, have better attendance and exhibit fewer behavior problems. The School Breakfast Initiative will support and provide resources to schools as they focus on increasing school breakfast participation utilizing alternative breakfast models. Support will consist of technical assistance and training, capacity building and financial support.
We’re only able to embark on initiatives like this because of support from our community. Groups like the Junior League of Atlanta who are willing to step out and make a strong commitment are essential to our success. Together, we can tackle child hunger.
Director, Child Nutrition Programs, Atlanta Community Food Bank