Experiences with the Summer Food Service Program
The Summer Food Service Program, a program run by the USDA to provide meals for children in low-income communities, made Delta Hands for Hope’s first summer camp possible. You have probably heard radio commercials or seen social media posts about this national program but may not understand its importance for communities like Shaw, MS. During the summer of 2014, our first summer in operation, Delta Hands for Hope served 416 meals to children in the community, and at the time, this number seemed huge. However, over the next two summers, we served over 10,000 meals! By participating in the Summer Food Service Program, we are providing a much needed resource for children in the community and expanding our outreach opportunities through communion and fellowship.
Bolivar County, where Shaw is located, has a childhood food insecurity rate of 31.9%, which is extremely high. This means that about one in three children who walk through our doors don’t have consistent access to nutritious food at home. During the school year, children can eat a free breakfast and lunch at school, but during school holidays, parents may struggle to provide healthy foods for their children. Because Shaw is roughly twelve miles from the nearest grocery store, access to fresh fruits and vegetables can be tricky for parents who don’t have access to consistent transportation. For many parents in Shaw, their access to groceries is limited to the stock at convenience stores, where most foods are processed and packaged. Summer months tend to be the worse time for children in food-insecure homes.
This number was hard for me to process. Because one in three children are food insecure, the entire Delta region has one of the highest concentrations of childhood food insecurity in the country. Nationwide, the food insecurity average is approximately one in seven. I know the research, the statistics, and what these implications mean. And I encourage you to research food insecurity as well. But it’s another thing completely to have a relationship with these kids, to see their faces, and to know which kids don’t have enough food to eat at home. By interacting with the kids in Shaw, these statistics become personal.
Through the Summer Food Service Program, Delta Hands for Hope can feed nutritious meals to children all summer long. We have the resources to serve breakfasts and lunches that are healthy, filling, and expose children to various fruits and vegetables that they might not have access to otherwise. Even during the school year, we keep healthy snack options at our center because we don’t know who will have access to healthy foods at home. Participating in the Summer Food Service Program has been a fun journey for Delta Hands for Hope. We have introduced our youth to new fruits and vegetables, and foods that they don’t eat at home. We have learned how to compost our leftovers and how to plant some of our own vegetables in a community garden at McEvans School. During camp, we employ a local pastor to prepare the food for us, and our high school youth leaders help the younger children carry their plates to the table. We have had two different sponsors that help make the Summer Food Service Program possible, and we have sponsored other local non-profit sites as well. But most importantly, we have served hundreds of children thousands of meals.
When you support Delta Hands for Hope, you are helping us by providing excellent school year and summer programming for the children and young adults in Shaw. But you are also giving us the resources we need to make sure that every kid who comes to the center has food to eat. Providing food for children and youth is part of Delta Hands for Hope’s identity. As long as our doors are open, we will make sure that children have access to healthy food, and we are thankful that you and the Summer Food Service Program help us do that.