EDITORIAL: Eliminate child hunger during the summer

·2 min read

Jun. 5—As detailed in a story in today's Globe, area school districts and other nonprofit agencies are again providing free meals this summer to all children, regardless of residency.

These groups leverage local, state and federal resources to make sure that hungry children in our community don't have to go without food while school is out for the summer.

The unfortunate reality is that like last summer, when COVID-19 was becoming more widespread, children from food-insecure households continue to be negatively affected this summer by the lingering effects of the pandemic.

Even before COVID-19 disrupted Americans' lives, households with children were already more likely to experience food insecurity. Before the coronavirus pandemic, that translated into more than 10 million children living in food-insecure households, according to Feeding America.

But since the pandemic began, tens of millions of adults nationwide lost jobs or saw a decline in their work hours, leading to an estimated 13.1 million nonelderly adults seeking free meals or free groceries for the first time, the nonprofit hunger relief organization reports. Due to the ongoing effects of the coronavirus pandemic, more than 42 million people may experience food insecurity, including a potential 13 million children.

Most, if not all, of those children will qualify for free or reduced-rate lunches from their schools during the academic year. But what happens during summer vacation?

That's where our local school districts, farmers markets, YMCAs and others step up to fill in the gaps. Their free meal programs, many of them funded through U.S. Department of Agriculture initiatives, are crucial to ending summer hunger in our community, and these groups cannot be thanked enough for their willingness to spend their time and resources administering the programs.

There's a broader component, too, that could help end child hunger during the summer.

As the national campaign No Kid Hungry notes, these programs could continue permanently to help offset child hunger through an act of Congress. Flexibility that was allowed in these programs during the pandemic — the flexibility to offer curbside meal pickup, for example, or to let parents pick up multiple meals for their children without them present — can and should be written into the laws that govern federal child nutrition programs.