One of the most powerful things we can do to build a brighter future for America’s kids is to give them the nutrition they need to learn and grow. Thanks to the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids of 2010, nearly 31 million kids are now guaranteed healthy breakfasts and lunches at school. For many kids, these are the most nutritious meals they’ll get all day—but what happens when school lets out?
Proper nutrition is critical for a child’s ability to learn, grow, and be ready to achieve their dreams – and hunger is one of the most severe roadblocks to the learning process. Lack of nutrition during the summer months may set up a cycle for poor performance once school begins again and can make children more prone to illness and other health issues year-round.
That’s why, when school is not in session, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s summer meals program helps make sure that those kids get the nutrition they need. Last year, USDA and its partners served a record 186 million nutritious summer meals to kids across the country, including more than 560,000 here in West Virginia, helping to ensure that those kids started the school year healthy and ready to learn. Better health along with improved education and higher literacy rates are just a few factors in the environment of a child that can determine their path and, ultimately, the impact they have on their community. Summer feeding efforts are part of the Administration’s focus on restoring economic security to hard-hit American families; building stronger neighborhoods and communities; and ensuring young people have the opportunity to reach their full potential. When we raise the quality of life for any one child, we raise the odds that they learn to read, become engaged in the classroom, and even graduate from high school. By building a generation of healthy, educated young people, we establish their ability to give back to their communities and neighborhoods, mentor other children, and create a cycle of achievement and advancement for generations to come.
No child or teen should be excited to start school in the fall because they will finally be able to eat balanced meals – they should be excited to learn and achieve inside the classroom and out. Join us in making sure that every child will have the opportunity to access summer meals so they can their start their school year with both a healthy body and mind.
Help spread awareness of summer meals in your community. We recently launched the “Summer Meals Site Finder” map, an online tool that families can use to find free nutritious meals for kids using their computers or smartphones. They can also call the National Hunger Hotline at 1-866-3-Hungry or 1-877-8-Hambre.
Tom Vilsack is the nation’s 30th Secretary of Agriculture. Arne Duncan is the 9th U.S. Secretary of Education.