School is officially out for the summer, and kids across Maine are looking forward to a summer full of fun. But for too many students, the end of the academic year means going hungry. More than 208,000 households are food insecure – the highest rate in New England. These families lack consistent access to enough nutritious food.
More than 86,000 Maine students qualify for free or reduced school meals. The last school bell of the academic year signals the loss of healthy breakfast and lunch for these children. Less than a quarter of eligible kids continue to get meals during the summer, whether it is because programs are not present in their communities, challenges with transportation, lack of awareness or embarrassment.
Hunger harms everyone in its grip, but it’s especially devastating for growing kids. Hungry kids struggle more with anxiety and aggression, have lower math scores and are less likely to graduate from high school.
A task force created by the Legislature produced a report last year that set the five-year goal of making a summer meal site available at every qualified school district. A new commission is working to bring school officials, food pantries and nonprofits together to ensure more kids are benefiting from existing programs. And we can each do our part by reaching out to local food pantries, knowing that summer can be an especially hard time for hungry kids.
The cost of hunger is high for the kids themselves and for our state.
Rep. Teresa S. Pierce