This week, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, along with Education Secretary John B. King, Jr. joined with students and friends of Robert E. Lee Elementary School in Petersburg, Virginia to celebrate the beginning of the US Department of Agriculture's (USDA) summer meals program.
In the news release on the USDA website, Secretary Vilsack said:
"USDA has been committed to closing the food insecurity gap that occurs in the summer months when children no longer have access to the nutritious meals they're offered in school. We're proud to have served more than 1.2 billion meals through the summer meals programs during our administration — fueling kids and teens to be physically active, take advantage of summer enrichment opportunities, and thrive throughout the summer and when they return to school in the fall."
Vilsack and King, in a joint letter, urged local leaders to make sure that children do not go hungry this summer. They asked that the local partners provide summer meals to children at schools and community centers throughout the summer; share information about summer meal sites; and serve as community champions.
This year, the USDA's summer meals initiative is partnering with the Department of Education and the Department of Labor to promote the Summer Opportunity Project (SOP), which is a White House plan to offer opportunities to young people during the summer months. The meal program supports SOP by helping students focus on those opportunities with the help of nutritious meals.
The USDA has a Summer Meal Site Finder that facilitates locating the nearest summer meals sites through a web-based application with an easily-searchable map.
Other examples of nutrition assistance programs supported by the USDA include updated nutrition standards for school meals; an updated food package for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women Infants, and Children; and working on science-based standards for meals served in the Child and Adult Care Food Program.
In Petersburg, Virginia over 1,000 kids will get free breakfast and lunch thanks to the USDA. The program in Petersburg will start on June 22 and will feed any child under the age of 18 who needs the meals, whether they are involved in a summer program or not, writes Louis Llovio of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
There will be 13 locations where kids can receive the meals, made possible by partnering with federal, state, and local programs. Virginia's own First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe has developed the "No Kid Hungry Virginia" initiative.
Nationwide, approximately 22.1 million students receive free meals during the school year through the National School Lunch Program. But only one in six of those same students also participate in the summer meals project.
WRIC-TV's Roxie Bustamante says the Summer Food Service Program ensures that kids from low-income families continue to get the nutritious meals during the summer months.
Virginia has 1,500 approved summer meal sites that offered more than 4 million meals to youngsters statewide. WVIR-TV reports that McAuliffe's No Kid Hungry Virginia, which is affiliated with the anti-hunger organization Share Our Strength, is leading the march against childhood hunger.
No Kid Hungry Virginia partners with a diverse group of agencies to ensure that children have the ability to get the healthy meals necessary to live, learn, and play.