For many kids, the end of the school year is a celebration of unstructured summer days and no homework. But for other kids -- too many kids -- the end of the school year also means the end of a guaranteed food source.
More than 30 million students in the United States rely on their schools for a meal at least once a week, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.
So what happens to those kids when school is not in session?
Unfortunately, it means that one in three kids from a low-income family will not have enough food during the summer months, according to a 2015 Summer Nutrition Program Social Impact Analysis by Share Our Strength, a national organization working to end childhood hunger in the United States.
Those children and teens who struggle with hunger face something called the "summer nutrition gap." These kids are also at a higher risk of losing the skills and knowledge they have developed during the school year -- which means they'll return in the fall at an academic disadvantage.
To combat the effects of food insecurity for kids, the U.S. Department of Agriculture offers nutritious, free meals to kids ages 18 and under during the summer months. The Summer Meals Program typically is held at libraries, camps, churches, parks, schools, food trucks, and even school buses throughout the country.
For many low-income families, these free meals can also make it easier to pay their rent and bills, without sacrificing their children's nutrition. That's important because 43 percent of low-income families in America find it harder to make ends meet during the summer months, according to the Share Our Strength analysis.
So do the programs work? The Share Our Strength analysis highlights a study of 1,200 schools in Maryland and found that schools offering a summer nutrition program saw up to 2.5 percent more students achieve math proficiency, up to 2 percent more students achieve reading proficiency, and up to 5.3 percent more students graduate from high school, compared to schools that did not offer a summer nutrition program.
So let's work together to make sure all of our kids are fed this summer! Click here to find the USDA Summer Food Service Program locations near you where children can take part in the Summer Meals Program.