A cafeteria full of students, parents and educators welcomed Virginia First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe and other officials to Coleman Place Elementary School today to officially kick off the start of the Summer Food Service Program in Virginia.
The First Lady also announced on Thursday a partnership with the Virginia Association of Broadcasters to run a year-long, hunger awareness campaign benefitting all seven regional food banks across the Commonwealth. The campaign will begin by running Public Service Announcements throughout the summer on local television and radio stations across the state to raise awareness of the summer meals service.
The federal summer meals program helps low-income children get the healthy food they need when school is out. These free, healthy meals are available to children and teens ages 18 and under, but in Virginia, only 17.6 percent of children who receive a free or reduced-price lunch during the school year are participating in the summer meals program.
“For many children, summer is a time for friends, vacations, and carefree days in the sun. But for the millions of children and families who rely on school breakfast and lunch for meals, the summer months are a time of stress, anxiety and hunger when those meals disappear,” First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe said. “We are working with community partners and state agencies to help connect more kids with free meals this summer than ever before, and I am thrilled that the Virginia Broadcasters Association has offered to help raise awareness of this vital program.”
Also in attendance at the event were Congressman Bobby Scott, usda Deputy Undersecretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, Dr. Janey Thornton, Norfolk Mayor Paul Fraim, Norfolk Superintendent of Schools Samuel King, and Fuel Up to Play 60 Ambassador, Everette Brown, who led the students in a fun physical activity. June 5th was also officially recognized in Virginia as the kickoff to the Summer Food Service Program through a proclamation signed by Governor Terry McAuliffe.
“Research shows a lack of nutrition during the summer months may set up a cycle for poor performance once school begins,” USDA’s Dr. Janey Thornton commented. “We must do all we can to ensure that children get nutritious food year-round so that they are ready to learn during the school year and have greater opportunities for success.”
Mrs. McAuliffe, usda officials, and the Virginia Departments of Health, Social Services, and Education have been coordinating with local partners to reach more children at risk of hunger by helping to promote school district participation in summer meals service and by coordinating outreach efforts to raise awareness of the program to families. These combined efforts have already produced significant increases in summer meal participation. Last year, 134 sponsors hosted 1,570 sites across the Commonwealth. This year, more than 170 sponsor applications have been submitted, including a 20 percent increase in participating school districts (48 to 58).
At today’s event, the First Lady also recognized the Norfolk School District for being a “Summer Meals Champion,” and presented School Nutrition Director, Helen Phillips, with a plaque and certificate. This will be Norfolk Public Schools’ third year as a sponsor for the Summer Food Service Program. In 2013, NPS’ School Nutrition Department managed 54 sites, and served 5,500 meals daily. Norfolk was among the largest sponsors in the state in 2013.
“Healthy, well-fed children are ready to learn,” said Norfolk Public Schools Superintendent Samuel T. King. “Our School Nutrition Department understands this, and that department has worked tirelessly with state and federal agencies to ensure that children in Norfolk have access year round to foods of the very best quality and nutritional value. The Summer Food Service Program is a crucial part of that effort for Norfolk’s children and families.”
Efforts to raise awareness of the summer meals program in Virginia have included:
- First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe addressed a letter to School Superintendents across the Commonwealth asking them to consider providing summer meals in their communities
- The Department of Social Services is coordinating with Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign to promote summer meals program in 120 Social Services offices across Virginia
- Outreach to local libraries has led to an increase in both summer meals awareness and the creation of several new summer service sites to be hosted at libraries across the state
- Targeted Facebook ads will reach an audience of over 360,000 Virginians, informing them about a text service that connects families to summer meal sites in their area. Families can text ‘Food’ to 877-877, call 211, or dial 1-866-3 HUNGRY to locate the closest summer feeding site