DETROIT – School-age kids are missing out on many milestones due to the COVID-19 pandemic, including summer fun. However, students who rely on free or reduced-priced school meals are missing more than just the classroom and playground -- they could be going hungry.
Before the pandemic crisis, one in five children in Michigan struggled with hunger. With extended school closures and families facing income loss, Feeding America projects southeast Michigan’s food insecurity rate could rise by 5% this year, resulting in thousands of additional kids missing meals.
Since mid-March, Gleaners Community Food Bank of Southeast Michigan has ensured children and their families have consistent access to nourishing food.
In July, Gleaners expanded its program to include additional food and meal sites specific to children, and it is supported through the Hunger Free Summer Plus matching gift campaign. Community members can donate to the program to help kids get the nutrition they need as more families continue to struggle.
“For kids, missing a meal is more than just going hungry. It’s added stress and anxiety that no child should ever have to face, especially in the middle of a pandemic,” said Gleaners President and CEO Gerry Brisson. “The moment the school doors closed, our team has worked around the clock to provide fresh groceries to 125,000 families and counting. And, with the launch of our Hunger Free Summer Plus campaign, we need to raise funds to provide millions of additional meals for children in need.”
Since 2011, the Hunger Free Summer campaign has provided vital financial support for Gleaners’ Summer Food Service Program. This year, the program provides nutritious meals to thousands of kids at 90 sites across southeast Michigan, including day camps, day care facilities and low-income housing neighborhoods. Gleaners utilizes multiple site models, including daily deliveries, meal pickups and fresh grocery distributions, helping to meet the needs of children or special needs adults aged 19 to 26.
“This summer is especially hard for the kids. Often, they are dropped off at camp hungry,” said Carrie German-Wright, the director of Summer Jam Day Camp in Detroit. “Gleaners’ staff delivers daily meals and snacks for each child, ages 2 to 14 years old, participating in the Monday through Friday day camp. “They really enjoy the meals -- both breakfast and lunch, and I know their parents appreciate it, too.”
She added that, because things look a lot different this year, they can’t offer all the usual activities, noting all the precautions the organization has put in place, such as wearing masks and social distancing.
“But to get the kids out of the apartments and exercising and eating full meals -- that’s important,” German-Wright said.
With the continued and anticipated increased food insecurity, the Hunger Free Summer Plus campaign also supports Gleaners’ emergency response efforts and ongoing distribution to more than 500 partner agencies.
In response to the pandemic, the food bank operates drive-up food distribution sites spanning from urban to rural regions, and it coordinates food box deliveries to more than 120 community partners. The food boxes reach an average of 14,000 additional households, including vulnerable members of the community, each week.
“Our team is dedicated to delivering this level of consistent service for as long as the need exists, and we can only do this work with the community by our side,” Brisson said. “During so much uncertainty, the Hunger Free Summer campaign offers an opportunity for every individual to make a huge impact in the lives of their neighbors. You’re not just providing meals, you are giving hope.”
From now through Sept. 7, all donations to the Hunger Free Summer Plus campaign will be matched. Thanks to Citizens Bank and many generous donors, including the Toni Wisne Sabina Foundation, General Motors and Ford Motor Company, every dollar given provides six meals.