Good News for a Change!

There have been times lately when the daily news feed has just been depressing to the point that I will go several days with minimal monitoring of the news.  To continue to follow the news cycle only serves to deepen the malaise that I feel and at times has almost caused me to throw up my hands and say what’s the use.  These past few days have been no exception.  So when I received two particular emails yesterday containing good news my lunchboxspirits were immediately lifted.

The first email came from the Director of Food Services in my local school district, notifying me that the school district’s application to provide free summer lunches to students in our school district had finally been approved.  The school district had applied to serve reimbursable meals under the federally funded Summer Food Service Program.  Any child under the age of 18 will be able to come to the designated location and receive a meal at no charge.  Adults are also able to eat a meal as well for a nominal fee.  The school district will be serving lunches at a convenient, walkable location, 4 days a week from June 20-August 18.

This is the same program that I had been researching last year, with the hope of convincing the school board to authorize the district to apply to be a sponsor of this program for this summer.  When I contacted the Food Services Director for the district to obtain some information for my group’s presentation, she told me the district was already considering this program.  At the time she was just beginning her research, so I was able to provide her with the contact information of the person with whom I had been speaking at the PA Department of Education.  I was very relieved to learn that the school district was already considering this program.  I had been thinking that our group was going to have to do quite a bit of convincing to get this program implemented.  I need to get my background check completed, but once I have accomplished that I plan to volunteer with this program once a week  as well.

The second email I received that buoyed my spirits was the monthly newsletter from thevegetables Food Bank of Delaware.  The Food Bank of DE has received a 3 year grant from Giant Food’s Our Family Foundation.  This grant allows the Food Bank of DE to partner with Delaware Pediatrics in a pilot program entitled “Produce Prescriptions”.  The pilot will allow participating Delaware Pediatrics offices to identify up to 120 families they feel are at risk for food insecurity and diet related health conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, obesity and diabetes.  Those families will then be given a “produce prescription” which allows them to receive a monthly allotment of 15-20 pounds of fruits and vegetables from the Food Bank.  These fruits and vegetables will be able to be picked up by the families at the pediatric clinic they attend.  What a great idea!  I have read about doctors and hospitals writing prescriptions for fruits and vegetables, but this is the first program I have heard about that provides the produce to those who are otherwise unable to purchase the produce themselves.

These emails came at just the right time for me.  Periodically I get very discouraged and pessimistic about what can be accomplished, and in particular, what I can ever hope to accomplish.  While I do not take any credit for the summer lunch program in my local girls eating watermelontown, I am happy to know that I helped connect the Food Service Director with the right person at the right State agency to move the process along.  I’d also like to think that keeping in contact with her over the past few months and letting her know that people in the community supported this action strengthened the district’s resolve to see this process to fruition.  Either way, it matters not.  The most important thing is that kids, who would otherwise be hungry, are now able to get a nutritious lunch 4 days a week over the summer.

 

Building a Case

When my boys were little I remember teaching them to read or add numbers.  At the very beginning they would look at me with frustrated little faces and ask “Why is it that way?”  Initially I would look back at them, equally frustrated, as say “Because it just is.  2+2=4.”  That’s when I came to the realization that I had to step back and look at it from another perspective.  I had to figure out a way to explain something, that for me was self-evident, to someone who didn’t understand.  I am currently finding myself back in that situation.  As my group moves forward toward our goal of starting a free summer lunch program, I have spent the past few weeks thinking about how best to convince a local organization of the benefits of a free summer lunch program in the hopes that they will agree to come onboard as a sponsor.  To me the benefits seem self-evident, but to others I may have to spend some time explaining why this undertaking is worth their time, money and effort.

Just like when I was trying figure out how to teach my kids concepts which were obvious to me, I decided to do some research and reading on the topic in hope of finding the approach that would successfully convey the concept.  Through this research I uncovered a report entitled, Summer Nutrition Program Social Impact Analysis, from Deloitte Consulting, nokidhungryconducted on behalf of No Kid Hungry with support from the Arby’s Foundation.  This reports addresses both long and short term  benefits of summer lunch programs in the areas of health, education and the economy.  To illustrate some of the resulting benefits of summer lunch programs, the report also includes a case study from Maryland schools.

In the area of health, this report states that students lacking in adequate nutrition over the summer months experience more long term health consequences, like increased levels of weight gain, susceptibility to chronic diseases and hospitalization than student receiving adequate nutrition.  When children, who have access to nutritious lunches provided chicken-nuggetsfree during the school year, lose that access they are more likely to rely on cheap, calorie dense foods which provide little nutritious value.  This switch in diet can lead to a weight gain in the summer among food insecure children that is two to three times higher than their weight gain during the school year.  Providing nutritious summer lunches in place of cheap, calorie dense foods can mitigate this weight gain and reduce the susceptibility to chronic diseases like, asthma, type 2 diabetes and heart disease for these children.  Additionally, decreasing food insecurity can lessen rates of mental illness and risk of hospitalization for chronic diseases.

Furthermore, the report indicates that the lack of enough nutritious food over the summer can worsen levels of cognitive decline in these students experiencing food insecurity.   All students experience some amount of learning loss, called “summer slide” during summer vacation.  Studies show that children from low-income families, who experience food insecurity, experience greater summer slide.  This effect is cumulative and often by the end of 5th grade low income children can be as far as three grade levels behind their peers from higher income brackets.  This gap isteacher most evident in reading achievement.  According to the study having enough nutritious food to eat helps combat cognitive decline which can lessen summer learning loss.  Decrease in summer slide can save schools significant funds, as it is estimated to cost $1,540 per student to re-teach a student struggling with summer learning loss.

The achievement gap, resulting from the lack of adequate nutritious food over the summer months, can potentially lead to higher drop out rates.  This report suggests that providing food insecure students with nutritious food over the summer, there by reducing the achievement gap, will cause an increase in the number of students graduating from high school.  In the Maryland schools case study presented in Summer Nutrition Program Social graduates-351603_640Impact Analysis, schools offering a summer lunch program experienced a 5.3% increase in students graduating from high school.  As high school graduates typically earn approximately $10,090 more per year than non graduates and experience a 4% higher employment rate, these summer lunch programs will not only beneficially impact the student who graduates, but will also serve to strengthen the economy in the long term, as these students are better able to be productive members of society.

Finding this report made me just as grateful as when I found the section of the textbook or a website which provided me the strategy I needed to explain a self evident concept to my child.  This report by No Kid Hungry and Deloitte concretely highlights the short and long term benefits of providing a summer lunch program and saves me from having to say, “Summer lunch programs are beneficial.  They just are.”  I encourage you, especially if you are skeptical about the benefits of a summer lunch program, to follow the link above to the report and read it.