By: Alex Camardelle, Georgia Budget & Policy Institute 

Georgia ranks in the top 10 performing states that provide summer meals for the first time since the nonprofit Food Research and Action Center began tracking the data.

The Summer Nutrition Program bridges the hunger gap for one in five Georgia children who receive free- or reduced-price lunch during the school year, according to a recent report by the center.

The Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning estimates that more than 60 percent of children under 18 risk losing access to the free- or reduced-price meals they rely on during the school year.

The Washington-D.C.-based center’s report shows that Georgia served about 195,233 school-aged children per day through summer meal programs in 2017, 37 percent more than 2016. This improvement is thanks to collaboration by nonprofits with government and private agencies to help boost awareness and participation in summer meals programs for low-income children.

The Summer Food Service Program and the National School Lunch Program (Seamless Summer Option) are two federal programs designed to fight hunger when school is out by supplementing the meals that low-income students might otherwise miss. The meals are also a great way to attract children to educational and recreational programs in their communities that keep them engaged, active and productive during the summer vacation months. About 22 percent of the roughly 871,000 Georgia children who received free- or reduced-price lunch during the 2016-2017 school year also received free summer meals in 2017.

Despite demand for summer meals, the number of local sponsors who provide these meals declined by 6 percent in 2017. Summer meals programs are dependent on schools, neighborhood-based youth programs, and churches to distribute meals. These sponsors leverage federal dollars to provide meals to eligible children. The money helps organizations like Quality Care for Children to deliver nutritious meals to summer camps across metro Atlanta at no cost. By adding more partners statewide, Georgia can tap into millions of additional federal dollars to create infrastructure needed to feed even more hungry children during the summer.

When public funding does fall short, private donors step in to help fill the summer meals gap. The “Silence the Growl” campaign led by the United Way of Greater Atlanta is one example of ways to encourage people and corporations to donate money to boost the capacity of sponsors in their fight against childhood food insecurity. Money raised by the campaign this summer has already helped United Way distribute 57,080 meals.

Georgia’s children excel when these efforts are supported. For more information about how to become a sponsor site for summer meals, visit the state’s informational page. You can also find your local summer meals site using the state’s nutrition program search or by texting FOOD GA to 877-877.