San Antonio children whose families depend on school lunch for meals are facing a summer of hunger—even more so this summer than in years past, says the San Antonio Food Bank.
Last year in the first week of summer operation, the food bank served 15,000 meals. This year, the figure was 30,000.
Eric Cooper, president and CEO of the San Antonio Food Bank, attributes the leap to changes to summer school programs in certain parts of town and to an overall increase in demand.
Local schools serve about 200,000 kids during the school year, Cooper said. In summer, they still feed “about 20,000 kids–and they are not able to provide food all 11 weeks in summer. We are trying to work around them, if you will, to make sure these kids have something to eat. Because of the support (the food bank receives) we are the largest response to child hunger.
“But, you know, we need to be doing more, and the only way we can do more is if the community supports us (with donations).”
At a press conference Wednesday afternoon, Cooper was joined by San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who implored the community to step up with donations to the food bank.
“To know kids are in this situation is not just sad, it’s disgusting,” Popovich said. “It’s our responsibility to take care of it—each and every one of us.”
Why summer leaves kids hungry
Schools can be a safe haven for hungry students during the year. While summer school is in session, many campuses offer food to any student under 18-years-old, but Cooper is unaware of a single location that serves food once classes wrap up.
“The ISDs and school-based summer food generally runs in parallel to some type of educational strategy—so summer school,” Cooper told Folo Media after the press conference. “And many of those programs end in June. So in July and August there is a gap. We try to work with those schools and those kids to identify alternative sites where those kids can go … We are trying to bridge all 11 weeks of the summer.”
An analysis of information on the school districts’ websites reveals the drop off in available food.
In June, 132 locations in five school districts—East Central, Judson, North East, Northside, Southwest and San Antonio—will serve food. By August, that number will drop to 39.
The change in summer programming leaves food assistance programs scrambling to feed more children sooner in the summer than in the past, Cooper said.
If the need for donations is not met, “everyone will still get something.” But he worries it will not meet the program’s nutritional standards.
Creative solutions for hungry children
Part of the reason schools’ free lunches are successful is because of the bus system that takes children to the food. When the schools stop feeding children, the food bank still has to figure out how to get food to the children. This summer, they are setting up in nontraditional locations, such as churches and parks, and have created a text message hotline — text FoodTx to 877-877 — to help parents to locate the program nearest them.
The food bank also hired 35 summer employees to help meet the increased need.
As for Popovich, the Spurs coach encouraged folks to donate at H-E-B stores during checkout as part of the store’s Help End Hunger initiatives.
“So the next time that you are at an H-E-B, you are going to have an opportunity to donate $1, $3, $5 and maybe it will pop in your head that that big basket you have there means that you are pretty fortunate and maybe you can go give a buck … to help support the kids,” Popovich said.
People can also volunteer to wrap food, distribute food or work in the food bank’s garden.
“I think that for any of us the measure of us and and our satisfaction in life is how much you give back,” Popovich said. “If it’s all about you, you’re not going to be a happy camper.”
This article was originally published by the H.E. Butt Foundation’s Folo Media initiative in 2017.