Not the hunger of a lazy afternoon, saving your appetite for the big cookout. Not the bored and snackish hunger that keeps you checking the pantry in the hope that something different and delicious has magically appeared. It’s the grinding and gnawing hunger of food insecurity: of not getting enough to eat and maybe not even knowing where your next meal will come from. Why am I raining on summer’s parade? Because many kids count on school lunches (and breakfasts) to fill a critical gap in their diets. When school is closed, so is their reliable window of opportunity to get a healthy meal or two.
Norfolk’s rate of food insecurity in 2019 (the most recent data year) was 12.5% overall and 19.3% for children. To the surprise of probably no one, food insecurity rates have increased thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, pushing another 2 million children nationally into a precarious situation. Not that food insecurity doesn’t suck for adults, but it causes profound and even permanent physical and social harm to children: they are more likely to be sick and hospitalized than food-secure children; more likely to suffer from anemia, asthma, anxiety, obesity, and diabetes; more likely to have trouble at school (who can pay attention when they’re hungry?), and more likely to be socially isolated.
Fortunately, there are tons of places kids can get a free meal – maybe even two meals a day – every weekday this summer. Norfolk Public Schools is expanding their summer meals program to 50 locations this year, growing beyond schools to other community institutions like rec centers and libraries to offer meals to all aged 18 and younger. No proof of enrollment, income, or residence is necessary; simply show up, get some healthy food, and maybe check out a book or play a game while you’re at it. The Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore is participating in the Summer Food Service Program, providing meals to kids ages 5-18 on a first-come, first-serve basis at seven community centers around town.
It’s summertime, and the livin’ should be easy. Nobody should have to be food insecure, but that’s a different article for another day. In the meantime, if you know someone who is food insecure (and 18 or younger), maybe give them a ride to one of these locations. If you are food secure, consider donating your time or money to the Food Bank or another organization. Let’s ensure that kids are counting down to the first day of school because they’re excited to learn and see friends – not because they’re hungry.
Catie was born in Norfolk and as an adult has lived here for two years and change. She has a master's in Environmental Planning and Design from the University of Georgia. She likes hiking, playing trivia, being a flaneuse, pinball, memes, and growing vegetables.