Closing the Hunger Gap
When schools break for summer, free and reduced-price meals that millions of low-income children and families rely on during the regular school year end, leaving families to figure out how to close this gap in nutrition for their children. Fortunately, the D.C. Free Summer Meals Program helps families close the gap by providing nutritious meals and snacks to children ages 18 and under. The D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) is the District’s largest summer meal sponsor, delivering meals to over 200 recreation facilities, community programs, and faith-based programs.
As a Machon Kaplan participant interning at the Food Research and Action Center, I had the opportunity to visit two DPR-sponsored summer meal sites with D.C. Hunger Solutions. Both sites were located at affordable housing units. Going into this experience, I was unaware of the educational and enriching programming that is sometimes offered in conjunction with nutritious meals during the summer. When we walked into the first site, children were drawing and writing based on the assignment: If they could be any animal, what animal they would be? After asking a series of questions about their animals, the conversation turned toward the food they received every day through this program. The children told us about their favorite foods, ranging from chicken wraps and salads to pizza. These meals keep them energized and engaged throughout the day, allowing them to continue their education throughout the summer. I witnessed this firsthand, as the children were enthusiastic and excited to share their animal stories and favorite foods.
Both sites had a strong focus on literacy; one is participating in the DC Public Library “Dig Into Reading” challenge, which rewards children with prizes and activities for reading each day. The same site also features a group summer bucket list, opportunities to write in a newsletter, and capstone projects that allow participants to teach their peers new skills. These feeding sites go beyond providing meals to children and encourage summer learning as part of their programs. Program Coordinators at both sites we visited highlighted that the summer meals provided were central to the success of their programs. Children are unable to learn and participate if they do not have nutritious meals and snacks.
The summer feeding program is a national program with sites all over the country. Nevertheless, millions of children are not benefitting from this important resource. Our Movement has regarded hunger as one of our highest social justice priorities as Reform Jews. The Book of Isaiah (58.7) teaches us to “share your bread with the hungry,” and it is our obligation as Reform Jews to uphold our duty to those less fortunate than us and reach out and help these children where we can. One thing we can do is partner with anti-hunger organizations to conduct outreach so that families know how to access sites nearest to them.
Jenna Gorlick is a rising junior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is a Psychology major and Social Entrepreneurship minor. Originally from Weston, Florida, Jenna grew up attending Temple Dor Dorim.