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In North Carolina’s push to curb childhood hunger, schools will provide locally sourced food to millions of youth this summer.
The North Carolina summer nutrition program offers free meals to kids and teenagers under the age of 18. Administered by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, the program typically takes place in “economically distressed areas” so that they can serve the most food-insecure students. While students receive meals in school, once the academic year ends, they might not have enough food at home.
According to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, 1.2 million people experience food insecurity — 394,000 of them children.
The support comes in lieu of the dwindling resources from the federal COVID-19 public health emergency.
NCDPI calls on sponsors of the summer meal program to participate in the Farm to Summer Initiative. This includes serving locally sourced foods, connecting farmers with communities to learn about agriculture and nutrition, and hosting cooking classes.
The public will be able to access food from schools, public housing centers, playgrounds, camps, parks, medical centers, faith-based facilities, and libraries. Providers also offer fitness activities for children and their general communities.
In a press release, State Superintendent Catherine Truitt expressed concerns about acquiring community sponsors.
“Our goal is to increase the number of community sponsors that can partner with us to help provide reimbursable meals to food-insecure children,” Truitt said. “School and summer meals provide students with essential nutrition for growth, development, and learning. Participation in school and Summer Nutrition Programs also provide educational enrichment and support social-emotional learning.”
More families might rely on summer meal programs as the resources from the P-EBT program subside. P-EBT is a temporary service that distributes food assistance benefits to eligible families during the COVID-19 public health emergency, which ended on May 11.
Eligible children and teens who attended school in person during the school year will receive a one-time benefits payment over the summer if they applied by the end of May.
NCDHHS aims to reduce the food insecurity rate from its current 10.9% to 10% by December 2024.
Statewide, there is a push to get more citizens food and nutrition services and to increase participation in the Special Supplemental nutrition program for women and children. They also want to get more community-based organizations involved and increase breastfeeding support services.
These strategies are outlined in the NCDHHS State Action Plan for Nutrition Security.
“We often take for granted the healthy and nutritious food we keep in our refrigerators and pantries — but many families struggle to put food on the table every day,” said NCDHHS Chief Deputy Secretary for Opportunity and Well-Being Susan Gale Perry. “Our goal with this plan is to ensure everyone can get the food and nutrition they need to thrive, and fewer North Carolinians experience hunger.”
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