When school lets out, plenty of kids lose a staple of their daily routine: lunch. That's why summer food programs are getting creative in finding solutions to get food to kids in need.
In the last five years, summer food programs geared toward children have grown 25 percent, reports USA Today. The effort to feed the nation's estimated 19 million hungry children is rife with obstacles; awareness and access are two of the greatest.
"Most of our counties are rural and children rely on us to get to them, so we go to the children," Marcia Conwell, executive director of the Gainesville, Florida, food bank Bread of the Mighty told USA Today. "If you take a bunch of food and go to a spot, only a certain number of kids can get there."
To meet demand, programs are coming up with ways to work around the barriers keeping kids from getting nutrition.
In Gainesville, food programs like Bread of the Mighty are loading food onto school buses and firetrucks to take food to kids who need it.
In Wake County, North Carolina, a Power-up Meal Wagon draws throngs of kids who stand in line for a daily hot lunch. In addition to their meal, kids can take home free healthy snacks, breakfast meals, and grocery bags of food for their families.
Disadvantaged kids typically suffer more academically than their peers becasuse of the three-month summer break. Middle- and high-income kids tend to surge ahead, thanks to educational summer camps, visits to museums, and access to academic resources. According to author and child expert Dr. Michele Borba, food access also plays a role in academic achievement.
Borba told USA Today that students who don't eat healthy in the summer are falling two to three months behind their peers.
"The achievement gap is becoming so wide that it's a crater," she said. "Not getting the nutrition they need is draining the students' brains."
What more can we do to keep kids from being hungry? Is the system failing our children?