For most Ohio children, the school year has ended and summer has begun. Summer ought to be a time for our kids to enjoy playing outside, reading for pleasure, and spending time with family.
But for too many children, summer means an end to nutritious meals served in schools.
More than 680,000 Ohio children received free or reduced-price school lunches on an average day during the 2013-2014 school year. Many of these students do not have access to a nutritious meal when school cafeterias close for the summer.
That’s where the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) steps in.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Ohio Department of Education work together to ensure that every child has enough food to keep growing and learning after the final school bell rings. They partner with volunteers and community organizations to run 1,500 SFSP sites across Ohio. Last year these sites served more than 3.8 million meals.
But right now, too many Ohio families don’t know about this critical program, and miss out on receiving assistance once school lets out. Families need to know the end of the school year doesn’t mean an end to food services for their children.
At approved schools, synagogues, summer camps, churches, community centers, pools and recreation centers, volunteers and organizers are ensuring that our children have the healthy food they need to succeed.
And often these sites also offer summer enrichment activities for kids, in addition to healthy meals. Last week I spoke with Winnie Brewer, who runs the SFSP sites in Marion County. At the sites Winnie runs, they partner with the YMCA to offer exercise activities, and run a literacy program that provides free books to children at their feeding sites.
I was also in Youngstown earlier this month, to get the word out about the summer food program. I met with Mark Samuel, who operates a site at the West Side Community Center. Families need to know about these sites, and the dedicated folks like Mark and Winnie who run them.
Parents can visit the Ohio Department of education’s website, http://education.ohio.gov, or call 1-866-3-HUNGRY, to find a Summer Food Service Program site near them. Summer break shouldn’t mean a break from good nutrition for our children.
Sherrod Brown is a U.S. senator for the state of Ohio.