Summer is a time for a kid to be a kid. But for the more than 170,000 youngsters at risk for hunger in the bi-state region, it’s also a time to worry about where their next meal may be coming from.
Operation Food Search and St. Louis Area Foodbank are working to change that. With school out of session and kids unable to rely on a lunchtime meal, these organizations are stepping up to help fill the gap. “In our Missouri service area, there are 383,000 students who receive free or reduced lunches in the school year,” notes St. Louis Area Foodbank president and CEO Frank Finnegan.
For its part, Operation Food Search, through its partnership with St. Louis County libraries, is aiming to provide more than 2,000 kids with lunches this summer. The meals, which typically include a sandwich, fruit, chips and milk—prescribed and funded by the USDA—will be served from noon until 1 p.m. Monday to Friday through Aug. 15 at the Florissant Valley, Rock Road and Weber Road branches. The libraries also will offer educational activities for the kids who come in for lunch. Operation Food Search executive director Sunny Schaefer says the program is a win-win situation for the kids and the agencies. “They want the kids in the library so they can read and continue their education process in the summer—and it’s very hard to learn when you’re hungry, so we’re providing the meals.” In addition to the libraries, Operation Food Search also is traveling to area neighborhoods and swimming pools—wherever kids are out playing and working up a hunger in the summer—to give them healthy meals.
Giving the gift of food is just one way Operation Food Search is impacting local hunger. The organization also offers opportunities for food education and hunger awareness. One such educational program is Cooking Matters, a year-round weekly class where dieticians and nutritionists empower low-income families with advice on buying nutritious food on a budget and cooking healthy meals for their kids at home. “There’s nothing better than being able to feed your own family a nutritious meal,” Schaefer notes.
In other efforts to end area hunger, about 500 food agencies within a 100-mile radius of St. Louis are feeding about 260,000 people a year—about 40 percent of which are 18 and younger—thanks to St. Louis Area Foodbank. And summers are busiest for the Foodbank, as students’ free and reduced school lunches end and break begins. “We distribute more food in the summer months to alleviate that need,” Finnegan says. A food drive each Mother’s Day weekend generates most of the canned fruits and vegetables, peanut butter and other non-perishable foods the Foodbank distributes during the summer to food pantries, and hot and cold meal sites.
Hunger is a cyclical problem, Schaefer notes. And St. Louis has a growing working poor population, comprised of families in need, Finnegan adds. “We are trying to shine a light on the problem of childhood hunger,” Schaefer says. “We don’t like to think of anybody going to bed hungry—especially children.”