In Ohio, more than 1 in 4 children lack access to nutritious food and are food insecure. In Youngstown, where nearly 40.2% of all residents and 66.6% of children live below the federal poverty level, an organization is working to combat childhood food insecurity.
Neighborhood Ministries runs an after-school program for lower-income children from kindergarten through sixth grade, where they provide homework support, online educational activities, and healthy food. Neighborhood Ministries serves each child a much needed nutritious meal. And for some children, it is their only meal that evening. For families struggling to pay their bills, parents are often faced with a hard choice—to put food on the table or a roof over their head.
Fortunately for the children in Youngstown, if dinner is a meal that is greatly needed, they know where they can get it. As Mark Samuel, Executive Director of Neighborhood Ministries says, “One young woman told me that some days there would be nothing in the cupboard to eat, but she knew she could bring her siblings down here for a meal.” Neighborhood Ministries’ after school meal program is provided by the Children’s Hunger Alliance and is federally funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP).* CACFP provided funding for almost $2 billion meals and snacks in child and adult care programs last year.
Five years ago Neighborhood Ministries began sponsoring another food assistance program for the community: the summer meal program. The Summer Food Service Program, authorized by Congress in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, provides nutritious meals for lower-income children throughout the summer when school is not in session. The demand for this program is high, particularly in Youngstown. Since 2010 the program has grown from 4 to 29 sites, reaching over 750 children per summer. This past summer, Neighborhood Ministries served a total of 42,000 meals. “Nutritious food is such an important part of what we offer, we probably wouldn’t have the attendance at the after school and summer programs if it wasn’t for the food. But once the kids are through the doors we can help them in other ways – such as assisting them with homework or providing them with mittens in the winter,” Samuel says.
Without the financial support of CACFP and the Summer Food Service Program Neighborhood Ministries could not afford to feed the children of Youngstown. In addition to putting food on the table for food insecure children, the summer feeding program also puts people to work in the community by providing them with economic opportunities associated with the feeding program: “One of the benefits of the Summer Food Program is that we are able to hire residents from low-income communities to help with serving the meals. We’re in neighborhoods that have zero job creation. It really does put the dollars back into the communities that need it,” comments Mark Samuel, executive director.
*On January 15, 2015 the U.S. Department of Agriculture released proposed dietary guidelines for the CACFP – to bring them in accordance with the most recent version of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The proposed rule can be found here and the public has until April 15, 2015 to comment on the new standards.
Special thanks to Amelia Moore, Policy Associate for UCS’s Food & Environment Program, for contacting and coordinating with Neighborhood Ministries, and assisting with the development of this post. Additionally, thank you to Mark Samuel, Executive Director of Neighborhood Ministries, for sharing your stories from the community.
Support from UCS members make work like this possible. Will you join us? Help UCS advance independent science for a healthy environment and a safer world.