Partnership ensures summer meals for kids

With another school year at an end, most students are looking forward to summer vacation. But when schools close, more than 340,000 children across Maryland will wonder where their summer meals will come from.

One of the great shames of our country is that anyone would go hungry in the United States of America. As Bill Shore, founder of Share our Strength, said, "Poverty is complicated, but feeding a child is simple." Although there are adequate nutrition programs in the U.S. that provide needy children with school breakfasts, lunches and summer meals, these programs reach only a fraction of the children who qualify for them. The reasons for such low participation vary, but in Maryland, our biggest barrier has been that many families simply don't know that these programs exist.

To help spread the word and make sure our kids enjoy a healthy meal all summer long, The Partnership to End Childhood Hunger in Maryland is launching an aggressive statewide outreach campaign to help parents connect to the summer meals program. The national "No Kid Hungry" campaign model led by Share Our Strength connects our needy children with food where they live, learn and play. And it does so in a way that makes fiscal sense. As more children have access to food and nutrition programs, the flow of previously authorized and appropriated funds to our communities increases. These funds stimulate our economy and provide long-term benefits to our states.

The business community is playing a key role in advancing these anti-hunger efforts, both on the state and national levels. The ConAgra Foods Foundation, the Food Network, the Sodexo Foundation and Walmart have all made multimillion-dollar commitments to Share Our Strength's strategy to end childhood hunger. Those additional funds will be invested in a toll-free hotline, website, and radio ads — all in an effort to help reach parents and let them know how they can participate in the summer meals program.

Not surprisingly, more governors and mayors are now committing to the partnerships as they see the tremendous results in pilot states. Since 2008, the Partnership to End Childhood Hunger in Maryland has increased the number of children eating summer meals each day by nearly 15 percent. A statewide campaign to fight childhood hunger in Colorado similarly increased school breakfast by 17 percent in one year, connecting almost 330,000 additional students with these much-needed meals. Partnerships in Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, New Mexico, New Orleans, Washington, D.C., Washington state and Los Angeles are also using marketing campaigns and other creative outreach efforts to connect more kids with the food they need to thrive.

All of Maryland's children deserve to have a summer free from hunger. Our ability to make our children winners in life is only as strong as what we do to help our most vulnerable kids. Parents can find a summer meals site near them by calling (877) 731-9300 or visiting Together, we can end childhood hunger in Maryland by 2015.

Martin O'Malley is the governor of Maryland.

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