Hunger doesn't take summer vacation

Gulf Coast

BY MARK PRITCHETT SRQ DAILY SATURDAY PERSPECTIVES EDITION SATURDAY APR 15, 2017

For children in families that are on the edge, when school ends hunger begins.

If you’ve read the news stories and editorials, or you’ve seen the All Faiths Food Bank video campaign (and I sure hope you have), then you’ve heard the message about summer hunger. In our community, as many as 40,000 children will go hungry once school lets out for the year. That figure includes the estimated number of schoolchildren who face daily hunger, plus their younger siblings and others who aren’t included in official counts.

Another way to look at it: every time you see a pair of friends chatting at a bus stop or scrambling about a playground, come early June, one of them won’t always know where their next meal will come from.

That’s because these youngsters will no longer receive the balanced breakfasts and lunches they can get at school each day. Nor will they bring home backpacks, efficiently filled with a weekend’s worth of nutrition, which is something they are routinely offered each Friday during school.

But the hopeful turn in this sad tale is our community’s response through the Campaign Against Summer Hunger. For the past three years, All Faiths Food Bank and a growing group of partners have fed more and more local children through the lean summer months. This 40-day campaign raises funds and food from the community, which are then used to fuel an expanding array of summer-feeding programs that deliver nutrition when and where it’s needed most. This year’s campaign has 30 more days to go.

Now in year four, our community’s commitment is unchanged, but we continue to get smarter, better and faster in how we address the complexity of summer hunger for children. The whole point of feeding kids in need during the school year and over breaks is to ensure that they can grow strong, learn well and reach their full potential. Well, our generous community has fed this annual campaign in much the same way.

As a community, we started feeding over 15,000 children during the first summer, and that has grown each subsequent year, to more than 31,000 last summer. This year, our collective goal is to reach 35,000 children in Sarasota and DeSoto counties with nutritious food for them and their families.

That incredible progress is possible only thanks to many partners:

  • Generous investor-level donors who seed the campaign with matching funds.
  • Sarasota County Schools’ Food and Nutrition Services, a partner from the start.
  • Sarasota County Libraries, which have stepped up to help deliver backpacks and meals to families.
  • Sarasota County Area Transit, which helps promote programs.
  • Dozens of nonprofit agencies that serve as meal sites.
  • Media partners that help spread the word.
  • Businesses and organizations that organize food and fund drives.
  • And the many, many individual contributors to the campaign.

If you think every child deserves the opportunity to have a true summer—one that’s fun, refreshing, and worry-free—please help us reach our ambitious but attainable goal. All donations through May 15 will be matched dollar-for-dollar. You can learn more about the campaign and the issue of summer hunger at AllFaithsFoodBank.org.

Mark Pritchett is president and CEO of Gulf Coast Community Foundation.

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