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Remember: Hungry Alaska children are in greater need when school's out

You can help hungry kids have happy summer memories too.

Hurray for summer! What good memories most of have of the last day of school when summer vacation stretched out ahead of us. But if you're a child who gets lunch only on school days, summer brings the prospect of hardship, not fun.

During summer in Alaska, 36,000 children lose access to the free and reduced-price meals they receive during the school year. Thankfully, there are organizations around the state opening doors as schools close theirs, to serve nutritious meals through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Summer Food Service Program.

Food Bank of Alaska sponsors 50 summer meal sites every year in rural Alaska, shipping 99,600 children's meals last year to villages from Hydaburg to Noorvik. Also sponsoring summer meal programs are The Children's Lunchbox, Camp Fire Alaska, Boys & Girls Clubs Alaska, Alaska Missions, Food4Kids in Mat-Su, and the Anchorage School District, among others.

If you or a family you know needs help with summer meals, you can find programs in your neighborhood or community by searching for the website Summer Food Rocks (http://www.fns.usda.gov/summerfoodrocks) and entering your zip code. You can also find information at 1-866-3-HUNGRY, by dialing 2-1-1, or by texting 'FOOD' to 877-877.

These summer food programs are vital, but there is still a very large summer food gap for Alaska's kids. The Alaska Department of Education and Early Development Summer Food Service Program website reports that only about 4,000 of the 36,000 children who qualified for meals during the school year received summer meals in 2013.

Sen. Murkowski and Rep. Young are taking a leadership role in helping to fill the food gap for children by introducing the Summer Meals Act. This legislation will get more meals to Alaska's kids during the summer by reducing red tape, so it easier for more small communities to participate. Please tell them you appreciate their efforts.

Solving the child hunger challenge will require all of us to remember that child hunger is really a family issue. If children don't have enough to eat, it's a safe bet that their parents are making due with even less as they put their children's meal needs ahead of their own. It's hard for me even to imagine how stressful it must be for parents to worry if they'll be able to buy groceries for their kids this week.

It runs counter to our intuition, but summer is the hungriest season for food insecure families and for Food Bank of Alaska's network of 300 partners dedicated to feeding their neighbors. Compounding the problem is the fact that food donations from the community are at their lowest during the summer. Food Bank of Alaska has a food donation gap averaging 60,000 pounds a month for June, July, and August. That's a deficit of 150,000 meals during the course of the summer.

Businesses and workplaces large and small can help fill this gap. Midas Alaska is a great example. Midas is collecting food donations from the community this summer at their stores across the state and making a financial donation with every oil change. How can your business get involved?

You can also help as an individual. Organize a summer food drive in your neighborhood, church, or office. Or, like Lia, who collected 753 pounds of food to celebrate her seventh birthday, mark an important life event by feeding Alaskans in need. Find out how at www.foodbankofalaska.org or call your local food pantry or meal program.

One bag of food can make a huge difference to a struggling family. One can of soup is a meal for a child. Every donation makes a difference.

Please help end worries about their next meal and turn memories of this summer into happy ones for Alaska's children.

Michael D. Miller is executive director of Food Bank of Alaska.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.

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