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Kids deserve three meals a day [Commentary]

GovernmentU.S. CongressStephanie Rawlings-BlakeU.S. Department of AgricultureMartin O'Malley

When school let out for the summer, most of the children in Baltimore who qualify for free and reduced price meals — 84 percent — lost access to the three meals a day they count on during the school year.

Struggling families and children turn to community leaders who run summer supplemental programs, like Hattie Bailey, who serves meals at Full Gospel Fellowship Church through the federally-funded Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). But since SFSP only provides two meals per day, Ms. Bailey is unable to serve supper to the children in her program if she serves them breakfast and lunch. She knows that these children often go without eating supper at all, and that a mid-day lunch can be their last meal of the day until the next morning.

The United States government should step up to provide those who volunteer their time and energy to administer the Summer Food Service Program with the three meals that all kids need, instead of just two.

Many Baltimore parents are employed in low-paying jobs and struggling to pay their monthly household bills. They rely on federally-funded school meals to feed their children. When school is closed, they find themselves unable to provide food on their own, so children are not reliably getting breakfast, lunch and supper.

JoAnn Wilson, the tenant council president at Gilmor Homes in West Baltimore, sees children outside all day, from 8 a.m. to as late as midnight. Rarely does Ms. Wilson see an adult invite the children inside for a meal. Instead she sees the children eating the only food they can afford: potato chips, candy and sugary juices. And it bothers her.

"As a kid I was hungry, and when you're hungry you're not thinking about your ABCs and your 123s, you're thinking about how hungry you are, you're thinking about that hurt that you're feeling in your belly," says Ms. Wilson, who also serves free meals to the children in her community through SFSP.

"Let the sites give the three meals," she says. "We need it. The powers that be need to understand that this is a needed meal. Don't cut us off from assisting children. The people here in Baltimore and Maryland can make us a starting point and serve three meals a day for our children. Others will catch on and they'll see the need for three meals a day."

This problem is gaining attention, and the three-meal movement is growing from the grassroots level to the halls of Congress. Neighbors in West Baltimore were galvanized at a June 14 rally at Sharon Baptist Church to lift up this issue. I will join Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake on July 1 to spotlight Baltimore's Super Summer initiative at a mobile meal van stop in Upton which serves two meals a day to kids who are hungry. Because of the regulatory barriers, that van cannot serve three meals per day.

At a hearing last week in the Senate Agriculture Committee, Gov. Martin O'Malley issued a statement about the importance of three federally-funded meals per day. And the USDA has increased its focus on summer meals as well. In a visit to Baltimore in May, Administrator Audrey Rowe established a goal of increasing the number of summer meals served by 20 percent citywide.

Each year, city and state agencies, nonprofit organizations, academic institutions and food service companies come together to increase the number of sites serving meals and participation at each site. In 2013, partners in Baltimore served over 1.2 million meals, a 10 percent increase from 2012. But this policy may be prohibitive to reaching the 20 percent goal and could prevent us from serving thousands of vulnerable kids in Baltimore during this impressionable time of their lives.

Please join the campaign to bring this critical issue to the attention of Maryland's Congressional Delegation. There's not a day to waste because starting June 17, kids in Baltimore and across the country lost access to the three federally-funded meals a day they depended on. #3meals4bmore

Jonathon Rondeau is president and CEO of the Family League of Baltimore. His email is jrondeau@familyleague.org.

To respond to this commentary, send an email to talkback@baltimoresun.com. Please include your name and contact information.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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GovernmentU.S. CongressStephanie Rawlings-BlakeU.S. Department of AgricultureMartin O'Malley
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