While the federal nutrition programs have been a lifeline for millions of Americans – and have prevented hunger rates from growing in terrible economic times – still tens of millions of Americans are not getting access to the healthy food they need. This is especially true for the Hispanic community, and FRAC’s 21st Annual Dinner on June 8th included a panel of three distinguished Latinas to examine and present solutions to this challenge.
The panel (pictured) featured Cecilia Muñoz, Director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs; Janet Murguía, President and CEO of the National Council of La Raza; and Maria S. Gomez, President and CEO of Mary’s Center in the District of Columbia. Veteran journalist Eleanor Clift moderated the discussion, which addressed issues ranging from the disproportionately high rate of food insecurity among the Latino community to the adverse effects of food insecurity for America’s fastest-growing demographic.
More than 320 people attended the dinner, which proceeds benefited FRAC’s Campaign to End Childhood Hunger. Major supporters of the evening included General Mills, Abbott Nutrition, PepsiCo, East Side Entrees, Land O’Lakes, Nestle USA, Tyson Foods, Unilever and Yum! Brands, Inc.
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New numbers released by FRAC show summer food programs across the country struggling to cope with state and local budget cuts. Recession-driven cuts to summer school and youth programs drove a summer food participation decline from 2009 to 2010, as fewer sites were open and available to serve summer meals. The FRAC report, Hunger Doesn’t Take a Vacation (pdf), contains data for every state and the nation.
FRAC measures how well the Summer Nutrition Programs are reaching children in need by comparing the number of low-income children receiving summer meals to those receiving free and reduced-price school meals during the normal school year. In July 2010, only 15 children received summer meals for every 100 low-income students who received lunch on an average day in the 2009-2010 school year, a decrease from 2009’s ratio of 16:100.
Crystal FitzSimons, FRAC’s director of school and out-of-school-time programs, pointed out that some states managed to increase participation, so program growth is an attainable goal.
As summer programs start to kick off for the 2011 season, groups across the country are making every effort to raise awareness of free summer meals and recruit more sites. The U.S. Department of Agriculture held a week-long campaign (June 6-10) to raise awareness about the risk of hunger low-income children face during the summer months and the benefits of summer food.
Visit FRAC’s website to learn more about the Summer Nutrition Programs and ways you can help improve participation.
Photo Credit USDA: FRAC President Jim Weill joins USDA Under Secretary Kevin Concannon for a media conference call to discuss summer food. A recording of the call is available online.
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Summer food programs are rolling out around the country, and Felicia Owusu and Cherylynn Jones-McLeod have been recruiting sites and conducting outreach in the District of Columbia and Maryland. We spoke with Felicia (from FRAC’s D.C. Hunger Solutions initiative) and Cherylynn (from our Maryland Hunger Solutions initiative) to catch up on their work and to glean what they’re seeing around summer food. One focus for both of them this year is recruiting faith-based organizations to serve summer food.
Cherylynn: The faith-based community is huge in Baltimore, and it’s a largely untapped market for summer food programs. It’s also a good strategy for weekend meals. Churches are well-equipped to serve meals on weekends, and many of them actually already are doing that. For starters, I took a three-fold approach to my outreach to the faith-based community. First, I started with my own pastor and convinced him to participate in summer food. He shared the information about the program with his fellow pastors, and a few more got on board. Finally, I went to the website “chuchesusa.org” and got a list of churches in Baltimore. I started “cold calling” them and now a few of them also have joined as sites.
Felicia: Churches and faith-based groups are ideal ways to fill gaps in D.C. – those areas without a summer food program in place. They’re also one of the best ways to bring the community on board. We were able to provide funding to help a few faith-based groups with their start-up costs, and that was a big help. Then, being able to tap into federal dollars from the Summer Nutrition Programs for continuous support helps these faith-based organizations. Anything that can help save them money and create a successful program is something groups want to know more about.
Cherylynn: The first thing I asked was whether the church planned to operate a children’s program over the summer. If they did, then I launched into the conversation about using federal summer food funds.
Felicia: In D.C., we also were very excited to get six libraries on board to serve as new summer meals sites this year. And we’re shifting gears now to do more outreach directly to families. One novel outreach tool we’re excited about is our new mobile texting service—people can text us to find the nearest summer food site. Bob Overstreet of Hunger Free Colorado helped us set up the service.
Cherylynn: Enoch Pratt, the library system in Baltimore, has been really helpful and is letting us share information at all its branch locations. We’re distributing business cards with information on summer meals, and posters that list the nearest summer meal site to that particular location. And people can use the library’s computers to find sites that are closer to their homes. We’re asking churches to include information in their bulletins. We also just did a PSA promoting the program with Antonio Freeman, a football player from Baltimore who plays for the Green Bay Packers.
Felicia: We also just wrapped up two PSAs about the summer meals program - one with London Fletcher, who plays for the Redskins, and one with D.C. Councilmember Muriel Bowser. We’re excited that these will help get the word out.
But a lot of our work just comes down to getting out in the community. That’s outreach. You have to meet the people you’re reaching where they are. You can’t expect them to find you.
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2,600 Organizations, 1 Message: Protect SNAP
2,600. That’s how many organizations from across the nation joined together to urge Congress to oppose proposals that would cut or dismantle the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps). Rarely, if ever, has a sign-on letter (pdf) had so many groups engaged. Signers included anti-hunger, children’s, seniors, women’s, religious, business, labor, anti-poverty, civil rights, public health, childcare and other groups. The letter was circulated by FRAC and other members of the National Anti-Hunger Organizations (NAHO) collaboration, and delivered to every member of Congress and the White House.
Some recent deficit reduction proposals in Congress, particularly the House-passed (but Senate-rejected) budget plan, would make fundamental changes to SNAP by converting it into a “block grant” program and making drastic cuts to funding. The letter listed the many strengths of SNAP that such changes would undermine, including its ability to respond quickly in times of economic or natural disasters.
“If SNAP is weakened, it would harm tens of millions of children, seniors, and working-age adults, increase poverty and hunger, damage our education and health systems, create havoc with state and federal budgets, and weaken the economy,” said Jim Weill, FRAC President. “More than 2,600 organizations are telling Congress that this is the wrong path to take.”
Want to tell your Member of Congress that you support SNAP and oppose any proposals that would undermine it? If you’re an organization, you can still join our sign-on letter. Just click here to sign. If you’re not an organization, Congress still needs to hear from you. Call your Member of Congress (Capitol Switchboard) and relay the same message.
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FRAC celebrated five major victories for a partnership that is bringing large-scale Breakfast in the Classroom initiatives to selected urban school districts across the country, with media events in Orlando, FL, Prince George’s County, MD, Memphis, TN, Dallas, TX, and Little Rock, AR.
There’s a lot to celebrate: More than 10,000 additional children are eating breakfast at school every day in the five districts, principals and teachers are thrilled with the academic improvements they are seeing due to the program, and the school districts are pledging to expand Breakfast in the Classroom beyond these initial grant-funded schools.
Funded by the Walmart Foundation, the project was run by Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom —a joint initiative of FRAC, the National Education Association Health Information Network, the National Association of Elementary School Principals Foundation, and the School Nutrition Foundation. These organizations worked together to identify school districts, garner stakeholder buy-in, and provide support every step along the way to ensure successful, sustainable Breakfast in the Classroom models.
“At every event I attended, I heard from school administrators, principals, teachers, parents, and students who are ecstatic about Breakfast in the Classroom. ‘We love it,’ is the number one most common thing you will hear them say,” said Casey Dinkin, FRAC’s project coordinator for Breakfast in the Classroom. “Principals who initially expressed hesitation about Breakfast in the Classroom when we met with them a few months back now are raving about it. These events allowed them to share their excitement and celebrate with the entire school district community, Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom, and the Walmart Foundation.”
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FRAC continues to take the lead on fostering the implementation of the participation and the healthy eating components of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act – the 2010 child nutrition law.
FRAC’s “Putting the Act in Action” webinar series continues to achieve record registration. Our two most recent webinars focused on “Strategies for Success: Making the Most of the New School Water and Milk Requirements” and “Healthy Choices for School Children.” With its milk and water webinar, FRAC (with speakers from USDA, the California Endowment, and other advocacy organizations) shared information, practical models, tools and resources needed to facilitate the successful implementation of new requirements that free water must be readily available to children during lunch, and that schools must only offer milk consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. “Healthy Choices for School Children” focused on the Act’s new provision that gives USDA the power to eliminate the unhealthy foods in vending machines, snack bars, “a la carte” lines in cafeterias, and other foods sold outside of the federally-reimbursed school meals.
Previous webinars in the series highlighted opportunities to expand school meal eligibility; new afterschool food provisions; improvements to the school nutrition and wellness environment; child care food changes; and other key elements. Transcripts and slides for all webinars are available on our website.
FRAC also launched a campaign to engage the anti-hunger and public health community in commentary on USDA’s proposed rules to improve nutrition standards for school lunch and breakfast (the rules are to implement the new child nutrition law and are at the public comment stage). In addition to submitting its own comments, FRAC publicized the opportunity; developed model messages and comments; and otherwise encouraged advocates and stakeholders to ensure the regulations set a path to realizing the best possible improvements in school nutrition quality.
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The recent storms that tore through the country this spring left many residents facing weather-related food hardships. Disaster SNAP provides replacement benefits for regular food stamp recipients who lose food in a disaster and also extends benefits to many households which would ordinarily not be eligible but suddenly need food assistance. FRAC worked with national, state and local organizations to make sure D-SNAP was part of the response in affected states.
The effort paid off. Eleven states – ranging from Alabama to Massachusetts – had D-SNAP in place. In Alabama, which faced multiple tornadoes on April 27th, more than 5,700 people in one county applied for D-SNAP in three days, and another county saw 9,000 applicants in just six days.
Through its website and Weekly Nutrition Programs Update, FRAC tracked the latest developments on disaster relief and shared the FRAC Advocate’s Guide to the Disaster Food Stamp Program (pdf). FRAC also partnered with AARP, NCSL and the National League of Cities (all of which have members in affected states) to get the word out. The National League of Cities highlighted D-SNAP in its June/July 2011 “Family Economic Success Network” Newsletter, which listed FRAC’s website as an important resource.
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As USDA moves forward with rules to improve school meals -- in response to widespread concern about obesity and a mandate from last year's child nutrition reauthorization act -- some critics have begun to argue that schools can't afford the changes given federal reimbursement levels. A new analysis by FRAC outlines ways that the alleged “price gap” in the USDA proposed school meal rules can be fixed and the regulatory process must move forward. The analysis particularly responds to recent attempts by House of Representatives conservatives to roll back the USDA rulemaking process. FRAC noted that there are ways both to give kids the healthy food they need and avoid undue cost burdens for schools.
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YMCAs Dial F-R-A-C for Summer Food Assistance
YMCAs that are new to running a summer food program found a source of help this summer. In partnership with the YMCA of the USA, FRAC launched weekly technical assistance calls to help local programs get started. FRAC Senior Policy Analyst Signe Anderson notes that the calls have been a useful tool for conveying both basic and more technical information about the program. In addition to the weekly calls, FRAC is co-hosting a series of webinars for local YMCA staff. These webinars focus on specific topics to help YMCAs with their programs, including nutrition quality, outreach, and how to keep children coming to the site. Both the webinars and technical assistance calls are funded through a grant received by the YMCA of the USA from the Walmart Foundation, and will continue throughout the summer.
D.C. Free Summer Meals #1
The D.C. Free Summer Meals Program continues to top the nation in reaching eligible low-income children, according to Hunger Doesn’t Take a Vacation (pdf). When D.C. Hunger Solutions launched summer food advocacy in 2002, the city’s program was in chaos. “D.C. should be proud of its top ranking and for sustaining that ranking for seven years straight thanks to a commitment across the city to make certain children get fed healthy meals when school lets out,” said D.C. Hunger Solutions Director Alexandra Ashbrook. At a kick-off ceremony, D.C. Hunger Solutions presented Mayor Vincent Grey with an award to celebrate the District’s success.
FRAC is pleased to welcome several new staff members. Richard Ryans joins FRAC as Controller, and Rashan Datcher as Administrative/Human Resources Assistant. D.C. Hunger welcomes Felicia Owusu as its Anti-Hunger Program Associate. Maryland Hunger Solutions welcomes: three new Nutrition Program Associates, Laura Flamm, Jillien Meier and Valerie Woodward; two new Child Nutrition Program Associates Catherine Rizos and Cherylynn Jones-McLeod; and Americorps VISTA Marisa Hrbal.
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USDA Says Higher SNAP Benefits Reduce Food Insecurity
A new report from USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) showed that the 2009 boost to SNAP benefits included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) improved the food security of low-income households. “This report shows that, in the midst of one of the worst recessions this country has ever seen, higher SNAP benefits kept even more families from going hungry,” said FRAC President Jim Weill. Read FRAC’s analysis.
The ERS report found that from late 2008 (pre-ARRA) to late 2009 (post-ARRA boost):
Food insecurity decreased among low-income households. The rate of household food insecurity fell by 2.2 percentage points, with very low food security (households in the worst circumstances) falling by two percentage points over the same time period.
Low-income households increased their spending on food. Food expenditures increased by 5.4 percent among low-income households.
Food spending increased more among SNAP participants than non-participants. This closed a gap in food spending that had persisted since at least 2001.
WAMU Series Focuses on Childhood Obesity
D.C. Hunger Solutions’ Kristin Roberts was interviewed for D.C. radio station WAMU's series on childhood obesity. The series, which ran over five days, explored childhood obesity and the many factors that contribute to it. Roberts explained the challenges and limitations of living in a food desert: “If your choices are taking two or three buses to go to the grocery store and then paying someone $20 to get home, versus a couple of dollars to eat in your own neighborhood, the choice is obvious for someone operating on a very limited budget."
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