Valley of the Sun United Way Shares Resources for Families In Need of Food and Meals During Summer Months
1,000 Summer Meal Program sites to serve children free meals across Arizona
PHOENIX —School is out for Summer Break, which is one of the best times of year form many families.
But for families facing economic hardship or poverty, the summer months bring the added challenge of providing meals to their children who have access to free or reduced lunch during the school year.
“During the school year, many families benefit from the free or reduced meal programs in schools,” said Jayson Matthews, director of ending hunger for Valley of the Sun United Way. “However, over the summer, providing these meals to their children can become a financial hardship for parents. In 2014, more than half of households in Arizona reported having to choose between buying food or paying for transportation at least once that year. Fortunately, there are resources that can help, we just need to get the word out.”
Over 650,000 children are enrolled in meal assistance programs during the school year across the Valley, but many of those children aren’t continuing to receive that assistance over the summer months. Not having access to enough healthy food sets children up for failure for the upcoming school year and beyond in their academic career, making them more prone to illness and other health issues.
That’s why Valley of the Sun United Way is working to educate parents and caregivers on key resources available to them over the summer months to help them feed children and families.
Summer Meal Programs offer children the much-needed social interaction and enrichment programming they may not have access to over the summer. Children are encouraged to visit a summer meal site to eat, visit with friends and enjoy educational programming like reading and playing games.
“Providing a meal is the bare minimum,” said Matthews. “It’s about how feeding these kids can help with their overall education achievement.”
During the hot summer months, it can be challenging to keep children engaged in the activities offered at summer meal sites, but the programming equips children with the social and mental engagement they need to successfully transition into the upcoming school year.
Now, finding Summer Meal Program sites is easier than ever, with a new testing service run by Share Our Strength. All participants have to do is text “FOOD” for English, or “COMIDA” for Spanish to 877-877, respond to the text with their location and they’ll be provided with a list of summer meal resources nearby.
There are also more sites than ever, with summer meals being offered at libraries, apartment complexes and other locations that will help eliminate the transportation barrier encountered by potential participants.