Many children from low-income families depend on school for more than an education. For children living well-below the poverty line, schools also provide a dependable source of food and nutrition.
So what happens to these children during the summer months? While critical lifelines -- providing essential support -- are available, many Ohio families don't know about them.
An alarming four out of every ten children in Ohio qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. An estimated 47 percent of children in Adams County, alone, received free or reduced lunch in 2009.
Now that school is out for summer, more than 800,000 Ohio children whose parents, grandparents, or guardians are struggling to make ends meet can have healthy meals.
In America's abundance, no child should go hungry at any time even when school is out for the summer.
To close the hunger gap, the United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Summer Food Service program works to provide school-aged children with the healthy meals they need to grow strong and thrive academically.
The Summer Food Service Program -- which provides breakfast, lunch, or a snack for children under 18 -- is critical to staving off a potential lack of nutritious food during the summer months that can further disadvantage children who live in food deserts or who come from low-income, working-class families.
A doctor in Athens County recently wrote to me that "this summer the poor in SE Ohio will be subsisting on potato chips. This creates a starving obesity." He added, "I am passing out to my assistants a description of nutritional deficiency diseases so that they will be prepared when they see these disorders in SE Ohio."
Last year, Ohio had nearly 1,500 food service sites reaching children in 74 counties. With too many families still out of work, we have to expand outreach to the families who need help now.
Ensuring that schoolchildren have access to healthy food during the summer is critical -- especially as more families slip into poverty -- because malnutrition during childhood can lead to major health problems in the future.
Childhood obesity, diabetes, delayed growth, and brittle bones are all possible health effects for young people stacking the odds not only against their well-being, but also burdening Ohio's Medicaid system and economy.
Although Summer Food sites are located throughout the Buckeye state, only ten percent of children who receive nutrition assistance during the academic year participate in summer meal programs. That's why in January, I co-hosted a first-of-its-kind hunger summit at the Mid-Ohio Foodbank with leading anti-hunger advocates from across Ohio.
Rather than lament a growing problem, we discussed how Ohio stakeholders can work together to increase the number of community leaders, sponsors, volunteers, and sites that can expand access to children in need of nutritious meals during both the school year and summer months.
In addition to local efforts, Congress reauthorized the Child Nutrition Act, which included a solution I supported that creates a pilot initiative to provide incentives to retain more summer food program sponsors. This effort can mean more reliable access to summer food program locations for children in rural areas where there are minimal public transportation options.
At schools in Appalachia, places of worship in urban areas, summer camps in rural areas, and recreational centers in big cities, young Ohioans can get the food they need to succeed.
For a complete list of summer food service program sites in Ohio, please call 800-808-MEAL(6325) or visit my website at www.brown.senate.gov.