Hunger doesn’t take a vacation

No more pencils, no more books … no more breakfast, no more lunch.

The end of the school year is a big deal for students. For the lucky kids, it means warm weather, no alarm clocks and, perhaps, family excursions. For the less fortunate — and there are thousands in Washington state — it means reduced access to food.

During school years, government programs do an admirable job of making sure students don’t go through the day with empty stomachs. Financial support for subsidized school meals is well-established, and the schools themselves are efficient feeding sites.

In the summer months, challenges include not just paying for food, but having convenient places and lively programs to attract youngsters.

The national Food Research and Action Center highlights some of the most successful summer programs that manage to reach between 21 and 58 percent of the young people who also qualify for free or reduced-price lunches during the school year. Simple math shows what a daunting task this is: Even in these best programs, up to 79 percent of qualified kids aren’t getting summer meals.

Sometimes, the problem is complicated by red tape. In Granite Falls, the school district learned that changes to the U.S. Department of Agriculture reimbursement formula would eliminate its summer meals program. As the Herald reported, school board member Carl Cary decided summer nutrition is too import to ignore and launched a fund-raising effort to cover the $12,000 cost of serving hot lunches five days a week at the middle school’s multipurpose room.

Food banks like Food Lifeline in Shoreline and Northwest Harvest in Seattle run campaigns every year to collect food and money in the battle against summertime hunger. As CEO Shelley Rotondo writes in the Northwest Harvest newsletter: “You can’t say to a child. ‘It’s OK, you will have lunch again in September.’”

The importance of private efforts and support from individuals in every community can’t be underestimated. In 2013, participation in U.S.D.A.-funded summer programs saw an increase of 5.7 percent, the largest annual jump since 2003. But do those statistics translate into full bellies in our own state? In the summer of 2013, 6,000 fewer Washington state children received government food assistance than in 2012.

We live in a place of great wealth and public sensitivity to issues like wage inequity. We should not accept a ranking of 38th among all the states when it comes to providing summer meals to the same students who qualify for school-lunches the rest of the year.

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