School is out for the summer. Our Alaska kiddos are running around in merriment, taking more dips in the many local swimming holes, camping and barbecuing with their families, experiencing a summer with record high temperatures. But, school being out for the summer is not all fun and games for all Alaska children. No school means no food for a needless number of our children.
One in five children in Alaska live not knowing if they will have their next meal. Less than 15 percent of kids qualifying for free and reduced school food programs during the school year are continued to be fed by those programs during the summer months.
The Summer Meals Act was introduced by Sens. Kristin Gillibran, D-New York, our own Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, along with Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Washington, and Alaska Republican Rep. Don Young. It was made into law and enacted in 2015. This has increased the number of children fed throughout the school year by school lunch programs continuing to feed children during the summer months. Although not all free school breakfast and lunch programs are closed to needy children in the summer, most of them still are, including free dinner programs. Existing laws still make it impossible to keep these free school food programs operating during school closure in the summer months and inhibit the ability to feed more needy children in the summer.
Additionally, food drives and donations to local food banks and soup kitchens taper off dramatically in summer months. This combination creates more severe food insecurity for more Alaska children and families.
As field organizer of the new Alaska chapter of Moms Clean Air Force, a nonprofit uniting parents to protect our children's health in the face of a changing world, I urge Alaskans to give thought to our children's health needs this summer. Children need nutritious meals every day year round in order to grow, stay healthy, be active and retain what they learned in school.
In acknowledgment of the increased food insecurity in summer months and the compounding effects it has on our children's health, Moms Clean Air Force has organized the first School's Out Food Drive to help diminish child hunger nationwide in summer.
In Alaska, the Food Bank of Alaska has the breadth to share donations across the state, featuring the most children's food programs. The Downtown Soup Kitchen empowers women and feeds many working families in need enabling them for future success providing for their families and having healthy children. Canned food donations for these amazing organizations to share with our Alaska communities in need are being collected at Natural Pantry Foods, Kaladi Brothers Coffee houses and Bright Beginnings Early Learning Centers until the end of June.
No child deserves to go to bed hungry, or be unable to play due to malnutrition. It is our duty to care for all of our children and give them the healthy future they deserve. "Share what you can" and know you are allowing more Alaska children to be healthy kids this summer, having fun in the sun.
Suzanne Schafer is field organizer for the Alaska chapter of Moms Clean Air Force, a national group devoted to maintain safe and healthy environments for children.