For many, summer is the time for camp, vacation and weekend barbecues.
However, for some children across the country — and even right here in the Bronx — summer leaves school-aged kids scrambling to find a healthy meal since they can’t depend on the federally subsidized breakfast and lunch programs at their school.
It’s far more prevalent than many might realize. One report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that 12 percent of American households had children who weren’t getting enough to eat.
They call it “food insecurity,” but let’s call it what it really is: hunger.
And hunger is quite close to home, too. In fact, 1-in-5 people in the Bronx are hungry. That’s more than 270,000 people, according to Feeding America, who are not getting three full nutritious meals each and every day.
While we can’t forget what it’s like to be hungry, there are even more lasting impacts beyond the terrible sound of a grumbling stomach. Young people who are not eating properly and regularly are at a higher risk than their peers to experience behavioral issues such as anxiety, aggression and hyperactivity, according to experts. They often suffer from a reduced ability to learn social skills, impairing cognitive learning and possibly even incurring permanent brain damage.
A lack of food also raises the risk of becoming sick and possibly having to endure chronic illnesses such as anemia and asthma.
Kids who are eating healthy during the summer break are more than likely to retain what they learned during the previous academic year, and be better prepared to build on that foundation when they return to school.
New York City’s Summer Meals Program provides free breakfast and lunch to anyone 18 or younger at designated public schools, community pool centers, parks and food trucks. This is open to all kids — even if they don’t attend public school. And no identification is required.
It runs through Friday, Sept. 1, and can be found at places like P.S. 95 Sheila Mencher on Hillman Avenue in Van Cortlandt Village. Or P.S. 37-Multiple Intelligence School on West 230th Street. And even at the Van Cortlandt Pool at West 242nd Street and Broadway.
The program is said to feed as many as 100,000 kids throughout the summer, part of a school system that has more than 1 million students enrolled.
As you sit back in your easy chair in the sunshine, you’re thinking, “OK, there are programs to feed the children. What can I do?”
Get involved. Getting food to the hungry takes effort — money or manpower.
There are the Friendly Fridges, including one across the street from the Riverdale Library. Neighbors and other groups can run a food and fund drive, and you can volunteer. For a teen looking to collect community service hours, this is a great way to earn that volunteer time while truly making a difference, maybe even for a peer.
Ensuring children are properly fed through the summer is an investment we can’t afford not to make. Typically, every dollar donated equals two meals, according to Island Harvest.
Like that old commercial, “you can pay me now or pay me later,” we can help feed children now, or deal with the consequences of unhealthy young people in the near future. And that comes with a higher price tag for society, and for someone to grow up knowing all too well the pains of hunger.