Summer Meals Bring Communities Together S The Summer Disconnect ummer plays a crucial role in helping youth stay on a positive trajectory, both health and developmentally speaking. However in many low-income communities, school’s summer closure brings added stress for families. On top of additional childcare costs; families lose access to a valuable resource, school lunch and breakfast programs. According to a national survey, more than half of parents whose children receive a free or reduced price lunch during the school year experienced increased financial hardship during summer, with some parents reporting that they did not have enough food to make it through the summer months. The summer break may also reduce access to fruits and vegetables for youth living in neighborhoods that lack healthy retail options. Many low-income youths have limited access to summer learning opportunities. The National Summer Learning Association reports that low-income students lose approximately two-to-three months in grade-level reading skills over the summer, while their more affluent peers are making slight gains. Additionally, this loss sets 24 California Police Chief | www.californiapolicechiefs.org low-income students farther behind, contributing to the achievement gap and decreasing the chances that they’ll graduate from high school. For many of the agencies that work to support the health and wellbeing of vulnerable youth, they also lose a conduit to families when school closes during the summer. Food Brings Communities Together: USDA Summer Meal Programs In its simplest sense, food brings people together. USDA’s Summer Food Service Program enables schools, local and tribal government agencies, and community-based organizations (including PAL programs) to serve free, healthy meals to children ages 18 and under in low-income neighborhoods when school is out in an effort to stem the summer nutrition gap. Free meals are served to all children and there is no application, sign-up, or identification needed. The fully reimbursed meals nourish children in need, provide communities with an infusion of federal resources and bring opportunities to create a summer safety net for youth. These programs provide the flexibility and opportunity to connect with other community partners in ways not always available during the school year.