Philadelphia Inquirer, July 16, 2008: Editorial: Feeding Children

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Hunger is not something most Americans think about. Especially not in affluent suburban towns with big houses and manicured lawns.

> Maybe in some poor, inner-city neighborhood you will find a hungry child – but not here, many suburban residents think.

> But don’t be so sure.

> In both America’s cities and its suburbs, summer is a time when many children accustomed to receiving a free or reduced-price meal at school go hungry.

> “These kids are orphaned for the summer,” said Patrick Druhan, food-resources director for the Montgomery County Community Action Development Commission.

> There are programs designed to fill the gap. But not enough, especially in suburban towns.

> The Inquirer reported last week that summer programs in Philadelphia’s Pennsylvania suburbs feed only 15 percent of eligible low-income children. That leaves out more than 47,000 youngsters who are accustomed to receiving subsidized school meals.

> Those numbers should serve as a wake-up call for immediate action by suburban governments. They need to reach out to church and community groups to see how they can jointly address the problem.

> About 53 percent of Philadelphia students who get subsidized meals in school are also in a summer feeding program. That’s more than three times the suburban rate.

> More than 80,000 Philadelphia children are being served healthy meals this summer at day camps. The school district also provides meals to eligible students attending summer school.

> There are fewer options in the suburbs. Meanwhile, the need continues to grow amid soaring food prices and the sluggish economy that has sent more families seeking aid from pantries and food banks.

> Some suburban public officials seem unfazed by the possibility that children may be going hungry in their communities. Others know of the problem but don’t believe it’s their responsibility to do anything about it.

> The schools should meet the need, even in summer, say some officials. But they know full well that the cash-strapped school districts don’t have extra money to feed all the kids who need a free meal during the summer.

> Instead of passing the buck, all stakeholders who claim to care about children should get together and find ways to pool their resources. The county governments are best positioned to take the lead on this issue.

> County commissioners need to team up with groups such as Nutritional Development Services, part of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. It runs 500 summer feeding programs in the five-county suburban area for children ages 18 and under.

> The solution to feeding hungry children could be as simple as setting up feeding sites at parks, playgrounds, swimming pools and camps. Meals can be added to vacation Bible or other religious schools, or arts-and-crafts and music camps. There is a cost. But it’s worth it to keep children from going hungry.

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