Summer Food: More than Just a Meal

Summer Food: More than Just a Meal

July 24, 2023 in Harvest Time Newsletter

Of the people served by Ozarks Food Harvest’s hunger-relief network, one-third live in a household with children. So many of these children rely on nutritious school meals that help them learn, grow, and play, but what happens when school lets out for the summer?

“Costs are amplified for parents in the summertime,” says Jayme Keith, program director at Ann Short Turner Community Center in Mansfield. “I think bills get put off to grocery shop. I think they’re not buying everything they would like to be purchasing.”

Jayme is talking about the tough financial choices many families have to make during the summer. Should rent or food be prioritized? Should parents pay for child care or focus on this week’s groceries? Many families worry about how they’ll stretch their budgets during the summer to afford children eating at home rather than school. For 1 in 5 southwest Missouri children, they don’t know where their next meal is coming from.

This year, economic uncertainty, inflation, and high food costs mean families face even more hardships. According to Jayme, many of her children’s parents at her summer program have trouble bridging the gap between their income and higher costs. “All of my parents are working, but at least half are only just making it,” she shares.

That’s where Ozarks Food Harvest steps in. From late May to mid-August, children can receive a free meal or snack at any of Ozarks Food Harvest’s 11 Summer Food Program partner locations. The Summer Food Program allows kids to stop worrying about food and start enjoying summer.

The Summer Food Program is there for families who need a little help making ends meet, but it’s also helpful for feeding sites that struggle to afford food when there’s a high need in the community. Jayme shares, “I don’t think it would be possible to keep up with what we’re doing without Ozarks Food Harvest. Before price increases, it would have been difficult, but now we just couldn’t do it without you. As a community center, this is truly a place where what money comes in, goes out. It relies on generosity.”

Hand-in-hand with proper nutrition, feeling safe is a crucial aspect of a child’s development. Not all Summer Food locations offer child care, but several of them – including Ann Short Turner Community Center – make sure children have a safe space to go when they’re not in school. Jayme recalls a single mother and two boys who attended the summer program a few years ago. “They were escaping an unsafe situation. They were completely rebuilding,” explains Jayme. “The mom said this program absolutely helped them get through that. She said this was the first place her boys had felt safe.” The mother had a lot on her mind, but thanks to the meals served at Ann Short Turner Community Center, she didn’t have to worry about when her sons would eat that day.

When hunger-relief organizations don’t have to worry about sourcing food, they can focus on making sure kids enjoy meals in a worry-free environment. Children can continue to learn, grow, and play when they don’t have to think about where their next meal is coming from. That’s why Ozarks Food Harvest is committed to keeping kids fed all summer long. Thanks to our supporters, we can keep Transforming Hunger into Hope so kids can thrive this summer.