Unfortunately, for many kids and teens, summer break doesn't mean carefree fun in the sun. It means worrying about not having enough food at home.
"My grandma is sick, and my mom lost her job," Jacob, a 10-year-old from Hyannis, told me. "My little brother and I eat breakfast and lunch at school, but in summer it's hard to get food."
Jacob and his brother are two of more than 400,000 kids across Massachusetts who rely on free and reduced price school meals from September through June. But when summer vacation comes, these meals disappear — and kids are left not knowing if they will have enough to eat.
Summer hunger has lasting negative consequences for children. Hunger is associated with poor mental, physical, and emotional health. Lack of adequate nutrition damages kids' brains, causing learning loss and decreased intellectual development.
When these children return to school in the fall, they are at a serious disadvantage to their peers — and their education suffers as a result. When kids go without reliable access to healthy meals, they can't learn properly. Many fall behind in school and are less likely to get good grades or even to graduate. Summer hunger jeopardizes the futures of food-insecure children. This feeds into the devastating cycle of education inequality and poverty.
In Massachusetts, there is a program that addresses the summer meals gap: Summer Eats.
Summer Eats provides free meals for kids and teens at community sites all across MA. Kids can drop into Summer Eats sites and safely enjoy breakfast, lunch and even snacks at some sites, completely free of charge. No registration or ID is required. Sites also offer enrichment activities and programming — games, reading programs, physical activities, nutrition education.
Project Bread helps open new Summer Eats locations so that more kids can get healthy meals. Sites like the Hyannis Youth and Community Center, where Jacob and his brother ate meals every day last summer.
Unfortunately, there are not nearly enough Summer Eats locations to meet the demand. There are still thousands of kids in our state who risk going hungry this summer. All children in our state have a right to be healthy and ready to learn when they head back to school in the fall. We need to open more Summer Eats sites to make this possible.