September 15, 2016
By Jordan Wilkie
Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools serve roughly 3,000 children and teens, or 25 percent of their student body, on the free and reduced lunch program, as of 2015.
Last year, only 10 percent of these kids were reached through summer nutrition programs, according to Tamara Baker of No Kid Hungry NC.
But this year, a new coalition called Food for the Summer stepped in and changed the game by serving 48,145 nutritious meals between June 13 and Aug. 26 in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro area.
Food for the Summer is a project spearheaded by Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger.
She brought together the Chapel Hill and Carrboro city governments with an array of nonprofits and UNC initiatives to deliver food to 40 sites all summer long.
Baker says Food for the Summer doubled the number of sites that served food last year and more than 20,000 more meals were delivered.
Six-hundred forty-five volunteers, 120 of whom were children and teens, worked over 54 days between Monday and Friday during the summer, an extension of four weeks over last year.
Yet even with all of Food for the Summer’s help, Maureen Berner, UNC professor of government, points out about 80 percent of students eligible for free and reduced school lunch are still not reached during the summer months.
The Food for the Summer program doubled the effectiveness of what previously existed, yet the numbers show there is more work to be done.
“A majority of public school children across the United States are eligible for free and reduced priced lunch,” said Nation Hahn, chief growth officer for Education NC. “This is not an issue that is limited to one race, one gender, one community, one region.”
In North Carolina, likely 60 percent of children qualify for the free and reduced price lunch, Berner said.
In Orange County, one of the more wealthy regions in the state, 58 percent of children are likely eligible for federal food assistance programs, according to the 2014 Feeding America report.
In the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools district, which serves the group of kids targeted by Food for the Summer, 28 percent of students qualified for the free and reduced lunch program in the 2015-16 school year, Baker said.
Even in this area of relatively low need, the demand is not met. The problem is reaching the children at their homes.
All meals provided are paid for through federal funding and are made by Chartwells Schools Dining Services, the contracted meal provider for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school district.
They front the money for the meals and are reimbursed only after paperwork is processed by the federal government.
However, Chartwells can only deliver food to so many locations, which has been a limiting factor in their work in previous summers.
Food for the Summer stepped in with their army of nonprofits and volunteers and were able to expand Chartwells’’ food delivery operations.
“To address the problem of hunger, we as a society have two choices,” Berner said in an email.
“Address hunger through strong, active public and private efforts. [This] is what the Food for the Summer program did this year in a fantastic effort. Or, address the underlying economic distress – but that is a much longer-term, complex social issue, not solved easily.”