For most kids summer means no school, no homework, and no worries. Or, summer might mean no breakfast or lunch. Unfortunately, this not only leads to hungry children but can also diminish the academic gains from the previous year. Poor summer nutrition has been closely linked with summer learning loss, coined the “summer slump.” Food insecurity has been linked with both lagging school readiness and poor behavioral function in kindergarteners. One study found that 75 percent of students with a failing GPA were food insecure, compared to 42.4% of students with a GPA equivalent to an A. Childhood food insecurity is also linked to poor child health and decreases a child’s chances of graduating from high school.
Food insecurity has been linked with both lagging school readiness and poor behavioral function in kindergarteners.
Only 10% of kids who qualify for free and reduced lunch have access to summer meals
Over 1.7 million of Ohio’s children are enrolled in the free or reduced lunch program, but only 1 in 10 of those enrolled can access meals during the summer. While many of Ohio’s school districts do offer summer meal programs through the Ohio Summer Food Service Program, barriers to utilization, such as transportation, prevent many children from accessing them. Getting to and from the school is not easy when the school bus isn’t running. Kids in rural communities face miles in between them and meal sites, and children in urban areas may face unsafe streets or dangerous traffic. Suburbs often fall outside the public transportation map, leading to transportation difficulties for the children in these neighborhoods.
Hunger in the suburbs
As poverty has become “suburbanized” through a lack of affordable housing and employment decentralization more suburban children are experiencing the impacts of living in poverty without the supports that have been developed in communities that have had a longer history with poverty. Currently, open meal sites operate in low-income areas defined as where half of children come from families that are below 185 percent of the federal poverty level. Urban and rural areas are more likely to reach this criteria than suburban communities, leaving many eligible children living in the suburbs without access to an open meal site. Open meal sites are available to all children aged 1-18, and “restricted open” sites have a daily limit to the number of meals that can be served.
In Cuyahoga County, the share of suburban households who live in poverty has increased to 46% in 2021, up from 41% in 2010. The suburban child poverty rate has increased as well, to 42% in 2021 from 39% in 2010. Fifty-nine percent of school-aged children (5-17) in poverty lived outside the city of Cleveland in Cuyahoga County.
59% of school-aged children (5-17) in poverty lived outside the city of Cleveland in Cuyahoga County.
Through the Cleveland Foodbank, several suburbs do have summer food service programs: Bedford, Bedford Heights, Brook Park, Brooklyn, East Cleveland, Garfield, Garfield Heights, Lakewood, Maple Heights, Parma, Parma Heights, South Euclid, and Warrensville Heights.
Most summer meal sites have a congregate feedings requirement, which requires meals to be served on-site. This requirement can make it difficult for children without transportation or those who live in rural areas to access breakfast and lunch during the summer months. However, a recent federal act was passed that now allows low-income rural areas that do not currently have congregate meals to provide non-congregate meals, such as delivery of meals to households.
SNAP rollbacks will contribute to summer hunger
The rollback of the SNAP expansion under COVID hit families beginning in March. Households with children have higher rates of food insecurity when compared to households without children. More than 3 in 4 said that since the SNAP rollback, their household’s SNAP benefit is completely used up within the first two weeks of the month. Of those who participate in the SNAP program in Ohio, 44.3% have at least one member under 18 in the household. The reduction of benefits, rising costs of food, and summer months approaching, may leave more children hungry this year.
More than 3 in 4 said that since the SNAP rollback, their household’s SNAP benefit is completely used up within the first two weeks of the month.
The Ohio Summer Food Service Program has partnered with schools, churches, community centers, libraries, and other places of congregation to provide meals to low-income students. The Ohio Department of Education keeps a database of all locations throughout the state.
To find the site closest to you in Cuyahoga County, please call 216.738.7239, or visit www.GreaterClevelandFoodBank.org/SummerMeals.