Food Programs Working to Fight Child Hunger

In a speech at the 2015 National Anti-Hunger Policy Conference about the extent of childhood hunger in America and the impact of USDA programs on reducing food insecurity, Agriculture Secretary, Tom Vilsack, announced more than $27 million in grants to fund innovative projects designed help end childhood hunger. This announcement was part of USDA efforts during National Nutrition Month to bring to light the issues of poverty and food insecurity among children, especially in rural areas.  In 2011, households with children reported a significantly higher food insecurity rate than households without children: 20.6% vs. 12.2%.  

1 in 7 Americans are enrolled in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and nearly half of these individuals are children.  In attempt to combat the rise of child hunger, anti-hunger organizations are increasingly collaborating with community food security advocates and other community programs to promote healthy food, farms, and communities through new federal policy; however, federal food programs still serve as the primary instruments for addressing hunger in the U.S.  These federal programs provide millions of low-income individuals and families with resources to buy the food they need and obtain direct meal service and/or supplementary food.  

The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) is the largest federal child nutrition program, providing nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches to more than 31.6 million children each school day. The NSLP is an entitlement program, meaning that all eligible schools and all eligible children in these schools may participate in the program. Schools receive cash subsidies and donated commodity foods from the USDA for each meal they serve. In return, they must serve lunches that meet federal nutritional requirements, and they must offer free or reduced lunches to eligible children.  Over 20 million children receive free or reduced-price lunch each school day. Less than half of them get breakfast, and only 10% have access to summer meal sites.  For every 100 school lunch programs, there are only 87 breakfast sites and just 36 summer food programs.  

In 2008, the Food Research & Action Center set out seven essential strategies to end childhood hunger by the year 2015. They focused both on improving and expanding the nation’s nutrition programs, boosting the economy, and strengthening support for working families in order to raise more Americans out of poverty, which is the primary cause of hunger in America.  At the community level, many emergency food providers are strong anti-hunger and food security advocates as well. Soup kitchens and food pantries can help to connect their clients to government food programs and serve families during the summer months when school is out of session.  Feeding America's food banks are leaders in anti-hunger and food security advocacy.

A growing number of emergency food providers around the country are moving beyond emergency feeding to help those who benefit from their services become self-reliant, which positively affects economic development within the community.  Ideally, these programs will provide a long-term solution to food insecurity, where eventually those Americans who depend upon these programs to feed their families will become self-reliant, contributors to a growing U.S. economy.