Come June, many students celebrate that there are no more pencils, no more books, and no more teachers' dirty looks as they eagerly start their summer vacation. But for some, the end of classes also means loss of access to the only reliable source of nutrition they have. According to William Moyer of Binghamton's PressConnects.com, summer vacation means that thousands of students in New York State's Southern Tier — and many more nationwide — will not have access to free or reduced-priced breakfasts and lunches they receive while school is in session.
For 14 districts in in the Broome-Tioga region of New York, where nearly 50% of students are eligible for the federal lunch program, what happens to the students between the end of June and beginning of September is of concern to families and educators. During the year, their schools dish out as many as 17,500 daily meals to needy students. The organizations that take over during the summer months just can't keep up.
In the summer, various meal sites, ranging from schools to churches to nonprofit organizations, serve roughly 2,000 lunches and 800 breakfasts daily.
"It's a tremendous shift in the program, especially in rural areas," Bordeau said. "Transportation plays a role. How will kids get there (to summer sites)? In the end, we don't serve as many meals."
The issue also arises from the fact that it's difficult to get meals to students who need them during the summer. School bus transport is not available when classes are not in session, which means organizations that serve meals over the summer must either pay to transport students to a central and convenient location or figure out a way to deliver the food to the students directly.
If transportation is the prime culprit in putting so many children at risk of going hungry in the summer, why not transport them to food sites or go mobile with the food? Logistics and the bureaucracy that accompanies a federally-administered program impose limitations on seemingly simple solutions, such as busing children to the sites, said Bordeau. Who pays? Who assumes liability? What buses are used? Ultimately, any changes to the program — perhaps to provide public transportation to sites — would be the responsibility of the federal government, including Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.
Schumer's spokesperson Meredith Kelly said that the Senator was looking at various options to keep the meals going over the summer, but the statement was short on specifics. So until the federal government steps in, the onus is on the local community to find a way to keep hungry kids fed until the school bell rings again in September.