Syed M. Hassan is the public affairs specialist for Islamic Relief USA.
Syed M. Hassan is the public affairs specialist for Islamic Relief USA. (Photo: Submitted by Syed Hassan)

The following is an excerpt from an article posted in  Delawareonline.com in July 2019:

“At the June 21 ribbon-cutting ceremony of the new, state-of-the-art Food Bank of Delaware headquarters, U.S. Sen. Chris Coons (D-Delaware) spoke about the negative effects suffered by children who go hungry.

“A child that is hungry cannot focus, cannot learn, cannot prosper, cannot thrive,” he said.

He also spoke about the emotional toll that such a predicament can have on their loved ones: “A parent that knows that their child is hungry can worry about nothing else because nothing is more important than feeding a hungry child.”

Few people would take issue with the senator’s sentiments. And thinking of that child is what keeps us in the nonprofit sector continually focused on fighting and preventing hunger wherever possible.

Fortunately, summer feeding programs, which provide free food to kids who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch during the school year, help fulfill both the child’s nutritional needs and their guardians’ peace of mind. The Food Bank of Delaware in Newark, for one, is among the ideal locales for such a program to take place.

Islamic Relief USA, a non-profit humanitarian and advocacy organization that works on alleviating hunger, awarded a $40,000 grant to the food bank to help administer its summer feeding program, which is expected to benefit close to 100 kids by providing each participant with two meals each day for two months.

IRUSA and the food bank have developed a strong bond. Back in October, IRUSA awarded the food bank a $25,000 grant for a program that supplies at-risk students backpacks filled with nutritious snacks that they can enjoy on weekends, when they can’t access a meal at school.

Food service programs for underprivileged children are sorely needed. Education experts, among others, have long touted the beneficial links between proper nutrition and effective learning.

Unfortunately, not enough children are getting access to these nutritious meals during the summer.

In America, one in six kids suffers from hunger. While Delaware has seen an uptick in the number of kids enrolled in summer meal programs (10,147 in 2017 to 10,415 in 2018), there are still thousands of other children who could participate in them. About 34,750 kids in Delaware experience hunger, according to Feeding America.

A report from the Food and Research Action Center released earlier this month stated that for every 100 children who qualified for subsidized lunches, only 14 children received a summer program meal. Reasons for this low participation level include logistical or transportation difficulties and lack of sponsors in at-risk communities.

But another problem for kids who are eligible to receive subsidized meals is the stigma associated with them. During the last school year, there were several incidents in school districts around the country in which the schools essentially humiliated pupils who had lunch debts by requiring them to wear wristbands, or even have debt collectors come after them. This phenomenon has been dubbed “lunch shaming.”

The problem has become serious enough to attract the attention of state and federal lawmakers, some of whom have introduced legislation to address it.

Most of these bills would prohibit the above mentioned practices.

Another piece of federal legislation, a bipartisan bill introduced by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) addresses summer feeding programs, and the need to expand them. Among the things it calls for is mobile meal trucks that would help provide healthy food to kids living in rural areas.

Some may wonder: What is the big deal if kids have “comfort food” over the summer, and why is it necessary for them to be in structured activities? After all, the summer months are the time to relax.

The simple answer is we have little choice.

In this interconnected, highly competitive world, it’s essential kids are in optimal shape — mentally, physically, and emotionally — at all times. Studies have shown much of the knowledge kids gain during the school year is lost during their two-month vacations from school, largely due to lack of, or little,  intellectual engagement.

This is known as the “summer slide” or “summer learning loss.”

As parents, and anyone else for that matter, it is our responsibility to buck that trend.

Providing kids with essential meals and enrichment activities during the summer are among the recipes for success. Think of the summertime as a rehearsal period and the school year as the Broadway run.

In the end, we want to say about kids’ accomplishments, ‘Encore!'”

Read the full post on Delawareonline.com