Very soon, children across the country will begin their long holiday break from school. But for too many of them, being out of school will mean not getting enough to eat. For 19 million children who rely on school meal programs for nutritious lunch and breakfast during the week, extended school holidays bring empty bellies because free and reduced-price school meals aren't offered when school is out.
More than 150 Feeding America food banks across the country have established programs to help feed low-income children on weekends and long school holidays when free and reduced-price school meals are not available. Our BackPack Program was designed to discreetly send children home with nutritious, child-friendly, easy-to-prepare groceries on Friday afternoons. Last year, we operated more than 3,600 BackPack Programs that fed more than 190,000 children. But it's not nearly enough.
The Youth Programs Coordinator for the Food Bank of the Southern Tier in Elmira, N.Y. recently shared some stories demonstrating the impact of their BackPack Program. She reports that children regularly are found hoarding food before school break, including one little girl who filled her pockets with ketchup packets because there wasn't enough food at home. Thankfully, the school was able to offer her father the BackPack Program and in so doing, found out that he had recently lost his job and was struggling to make ends meet.
Children in communities all across America face a lack of nutritious food at home. Recently, we visited Spring Hill Elementary which operates a BackPack program served by the Huntington Area Food Bank, a member of Feeding America. Beth Pettry, the school's counselor and administrator of the BackPack program, explains that many of her young students arrive at school hungry, are served breakfast and lunch, and then have nothing to eat after school or over the weekends.
No child should go hungry simply because school is out. Food banks and other charities are working with private donors and coordinating with schools to protect our most vulnerable children on long school holidays and weekends, but we cannot do it alone. The House last week passed the Weekends Without Hunger Act (H.R. 5012) to test the feasibility of providing nutritious USDA commodities to programs that provide healthy food to low-income children.
Our leaders often remark that there is no greater investment that we can make than in our children. The bipartisan passage of the Child Nutrition Bill demonstrates that a divided Congress can still find consensus on our children's well-being. The House reaffirmed that bipartisan consensus with passage of the Weekends Without Hunger Act last week, and now it's time for the Senate to follow suit. As Congress prepares to adjourn for the year and children prepare for the Christmas break, Feeding America urges the Senate to pass the Weekends Without Hunger Act. Congress shouldn't leave for their holiday break before ensuring that no child goes hungry during theirs.
Help us make sure that no child goes hungry when school is out by calling your Senator today. Dial 877-698-8228 and enter your zip code to be connected directly to your Senator's office. Then ask them Please bring the Weekends Without Hunger Act (HR 5012) to the floor and pass it this year.