(SAVANNAH) Second Harvest is kicking off an annual program that makes sure children at high-risk for hunger have a place at a table for a hot lunch when school is out. Their Summer Feeding Program gives kids in a four county region a meal in their belly during the summer months. Mary Jane Crouch, Executive Director for America’s Second Harvest of Coastal Georgia, says more than 60% of kids rely on the free reduced meal programs during the school year. “Just because you’re out of school for the summer doesn’t necessarily mean that the families have more money to be able to buy those meals, uh, they’re looking to try to find child care for their children this summer. so we try to help fill that gap so that it’s one less stress on the family and also, so the children can remain healthy.” said Crouch.
5,000 children in Bulloch, Effingham, Evans, and Chatham county are served hot meals during summer months at 55 different locations in the region. Crouch says access for the children is key. “A lot of the children receive free or reduced meals while they’re at school, so during the summer months they don’t have access to that food, but yet, they still need to eat. We try to make sure it’s in community centers, faith-based organizations, and different places where children have access to.” Crouch said. Access to hot meals, in a combination of breakfast, lunch, and even dinner in some locations, not only fights hunger for children, it also fights summer learning loss. “So when they go back to school in the fall they haven’t lost all of that educational academic, you know, work that they’ve done because they suffered over the summer.” The Director of the summer program for the Salvation Army’s Community Center on Bee Road, Mary Jackson, says the Second Harvest program indeed fights brain drain. “That’s absolutely true, because they can think really well on a full stomach. so with them providing a nutritional meal and giving us the opportunity to put nutrition in our academic studies, it has helped a lot.” Jackson said.
Crouch says the program will continue through July, while some of the feeding sites require enrollment in advance, there are lots that are open for any child to receive a hot meal. she adds it’s easy for the public to pitch in and help. ” There’s a number of different ways. We have volunteers that come in to help stock our shelves, volunteers that come and work in the kitchen, chopping vegetables and doing things like that, so we’re always looking for volunteers.” Crouch said.