Throughout the school year, the National School Lunch Program offers free or reduced breakfasts, lunches and after-school snacks to more than 30.4 million children each day, according to the USDA. In 2016, school cafeterias served more than 5 billion lunches, with nearly 75% of those free or at a reduced price.

This program ensures access to nutritional meals for many food-insecure children across the U.S., including Kentucky.

According to Feeding America, one in six, or about 12 million children in America may not know where their next meal will come from. Throughout the school year, that worry about meals is mitigated by these nutrition programs and other efforts, like backpack programs and school pantries.

As school ends, many children are excited for summer vacation. However, hunger doesn't take a vacation, meaning thousands of children will experience severe food insecurity over the next several months. With school no longer in session, food-insecure children lose access to the majority of their nutrition and meals throughout the day.

Children in our own communities do not need to go hungry, thanks to the national programs that help fill the hunger gap.

The Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) is a federally-funded, state-administered program available to our community, which serves free healthy meals and snacks to children and teens in low-income areas.

According to the USDA Food and Nutrition Service, the SFSP was formed from a Special Food Service Program for Children created in 1968. The three-year pilot provided grants to states to help provide meals for children when school was not in session. In 1969, about 99,000 children participated in the summer program at 1,200 sites.

The program continues to grow and provide access to food for millions more children today.

There were 49,500 sites nationwide in 2018, serving more than 146 million meals last summer. The program has grown exponentially since its inception in 1969, when about 2.2 million meals were served.

While data shows the tremendous reach of the program, think of the issue on a more personal level. The program ensured that 146 million times last summer, children across the U.S. did not have to go hungry during summer break, which is one of the most food-vulnerable seasons.

In Kentucky, more than 80,000 children were fed each day during the peak part of the program last year and about 3 million meals were served during the summer of 2018.

We are incredibly thankful our own communities offer this program, and for the many Ensuring our young people have access to healthy meals on a regular basis will be crucial for their futures.

Summer is a time when children should learn through playing, share time with their friends and families and take a break from the stresses of school.

By ensuring our community's children do not need to stress about where their next meal is coming from, we can allow kids to be kids.

That's how it should be.

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