The District of Columbia continues to rank first in the nation for reaching low-income children with summer meals. According to Hunger Doesn’t Take a Vacation, an annual analysis by the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC), more than 22,000 low-income children in the District received summer meals on an average day in July 2015 – a decrease of 10.1 percent from the previous summer. Summer meals reached 51.9 low-income students for every 100 low-income children who received school lunch in the 2014–2015 school year, outpacing that national rate of 15.8:100.

“We can’t rest on our laurels,” said Beverley Wheeler, director of D.C. Hunger Solutions. “More must be done this summer to reverse the decline in participation in the summer nutrition programs. By doing so, we can ensure more children at risk of hunger across the District return to school in the fall healthy and ready to learn.”

The D.C. Free Summer Meals Program, administered locally by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), provides children and teens with healthy meals and snacks during the summer months. Efforts to increase the number of meal sites, conduct outreach to parents and students, and increase public knowledge of the Free Summer Meals Program have all served to increase participation. A driving factor in D.C.’s top national ranking is the commitment of D.C. Parks and Recreation, the city’s leading sponsor, with more than 200 sites across the city that connect thousands of children each day to healthy meals.

The D.C. Free Summer Meals Program helps to fill the nutrition gap for low-income children who depend on free and reduced-price school lunches and breakfasts during the school year by providing nutritious meals and snacks to low-income children (ages 18 and under) during June, July, and August at hundreds of sites across the city, including various schools, community programs, faith-based programs, and recreation centers. The summer food program is paid for by federal funds, which are available for every child who is eligible.

Ward 8 community advocate Stacey Collins-Bates, said without city resources many young people fall into a cycle of food insecurity and eventually develop health-related illnesses such as iron deficiencies, malnutrition, obesity, and diabetes. “Especially among teenagers, I see a lot of cheap, processed junk food that contributes to them developing high blood pressure and obesity. The weight gain is from empty calories that are high in sugar, starch, and salt and have little to no nutritional value,” Collins-Bates said. “When young people are afforded the ability to sit down and eat a wholesome, cooked meal, it makes all the difference in the world.”