Hunger does not take a summer break. For millions of families that rely on free breakfast and lunch programs through public schools, summer break can often mean the end of two nutritional meals per day. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), known in the District as the D.C. Free Summer Meals Program (FSMP), began this week, to provide reimbursement for free nutritious meals and snacks for children 18 and younger.

The summer of 2013 marked the first major increase in the number of low-income children eating summer meals in 10 years. In July 2013, the Summer Nutrition Programs grew to serve nearly three million children, an increase of 161,000 children or 5.7 percent from 2012, and the largest percentage increase since 2003. The District of Columbia was among the five top-performing states reaching at least one in four lowincome children in July 2013. Maryland ranked 13th with more than 50,000 school-aged youth participating in summer meals programs – an increase of 7.4 percent from 2012 to 2013.

“For 40 years, USDA has supported summer meal programs that keep children in low-income communities active and engaged when school is out, while providing critical nutrition and reducing the learning loss that often occurs during the summer months,” said Secretary Vilsack. “Programs like these allow communities to take the lead role in preventing hunger and focus their efforts in local areas with the greatest need. Over the long haul, this program can result in children performing better in school, which in turn can put them in a better position to be competitive in the global workplace.”

The Free Summer Meals Program has a lot of sponsors including: public and private local education agencies; state, local, and municipal governments; residential camps; and private non-profit organizations with 501(c)(3) status.

Outpatient Pediatric Dietician Angela Boadu of Children’s National Health System said that the biggest risk of poor nutrition during the summer months is weight gain.

“Big contributors are an increased intake of calorie dense, nutrient deficient foods, convenience items and more processed foods,” said Boad. “Additionally, kids have more irregular meal patterns – no longer waking up early for school, no structured time for their meals.”

The program runs June through August with most sites opening June 22 and closing August 22. Meal times and dates vary by location.

During the school year, more than 21 million children rely on free and reduced priced meals provided by the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs, but only 3.8 million participate in USDA’s summer meal programs: the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and the National School Lunch Program’s Seamless Summer Option.