For many, summer is the time for camp, vacation and weekend barbecues.
However, for some children across the country — and even right here in Nassau County — summer leaves school-aged kids scrambling to find a healthy meal, since they can’t depend on the federally subsidized breakfast and lunch programs at their school.
It’s far more prevalent than many might realize. One report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that 12 percent of American households had children who weren’t getting enough to eat.
They call it “food insecurity,” but let’s call it what it really is: hunger.
And hunger is quite close to home, too. In fact, 1 in 4 people on Long Island who are hungry are kids. That’s 65,000 kids who are not getting three full nutritious meals every day, among more than 221,000 people overall.
While we can’t forget what it’s like to be hungry, there are even more lasting impacts beyond the sound of a grumbling stomach. Young people who are not eating properly and regularly are at a higher risk than their peers to experience behavioral issues such as anxiety, aggression and hyperactivity, according to experts. They often suffer from a reduced ability to learn social skills, impairing cognitive learning and possibly even incurring permanent brain damage.
A lack of food also raises the risk of becoming sick and possibly having to endure chronic illnesses such as anemia and asthma.
Kids who are eating healthy during the summer break are more than likely to retain what they learned during the previous academic year, and be better prepared to build on that foundation when they return to school.
The Summer Food Service Program administered through the state’s education department aims to fill the gap across New York. Locally, Island Harvest — a Melville-based hunger-relief organization — partners with roughly 35 community locations across Long Island — churches, health centers, libraries, recreation centers, parks and schools — to get food to those who need it.
Last year, Island Harvest served 75,000 meals to more than 2,500 children. To educate the kids on the value of eating healthy food, there were also hands-on nutrition lessons. Learning how much sugar was in their favorite breakfast cereal and drink was a “wow” moment for many of them.
Long Island Cares is another group battling hunger in Nassau and Suffolk counties. The Hauppauge-based organization runs an array of programs from emergency response and recovery, to Baxter’s Pet Pantry for starving dogs and cats. There are also youth-oriented offerings such as the Kids Café, Pack It Up for Kids, and the summer food program.
As you sit back in your easy chair in the sunshine, you’re thinking, “OK, there are programs to feed the children. What can I do?”
Get involved. Getting food to the hungry takes effort — money or manpower.
Island Harvest has a food donor program. Neighbors and other groups can run a food and fund drive, and you can volunteer. For a teen looking to collect community service hours, this is a great way to earn that volunteer time while truly making a difference, maybe even for a peer.
Long Island Cares also has multiple avenues to help. There is corporate giving, individual donations, hosting a food drive, the Student Hunger Advocacy Coalition and, of course, volunteering.
These are but two of the organizations on Long Island that battle hunger. There are many local organizations that could use your time and support.
Ensuring children are properly fed through the summer is an investment we can’t afford not to make. Typically, every dollar donated equals two meals, according to Island Harvest.
Like that old commercial, “You can pay me now or pay me later,” we can help feed children now, or deal with the consequences of unhealthy young people in the near future. And that comes with a higher price for society, and for someone to grow up knowing all too well the pains of hunger.
Food Donor program,
call: (631) 873-4775, ext. 2306.
For all other programs, go to www.IslandHarvest.org or email
Long Island Cares
Call (631) 582-3663,
or go to www.LICares.org.