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In The U.S., Summer Vacation Can Mean No Lunch For Low-Income Students

Fewer than 10 percent of students in the United States who receive free and reduced lunches during the school year get to sites that serve lunch in the summer. The lack of a midday meal can have a lasting effect on students' health and ability to learn. (Photo Illustration by Ruby Wallau/NPR)
Fewer than 10 percent of students in the United States who receive free and reduced lunches during the school year get to sites that serve lunch in the summer. The lack of a midday meal can have a lasting effect on students' health and ability to learn. (Photo Illustration by Ruby Wallau/NPR)

For the low-income students who normally rely on their school cafeterias for a nutritious meal, summer vacation could mean they don’t eat lunch.

Fewer than 10 percent of students in the United States who receive free and reduced lunches during the school year get to sites that serve lunch in the summer. The lack of a midday meal can have a lasting effect on students’ health and ability to learn.

Here & Now‘s Robin Young talks with Angel Meeks, the superintendent for the Holmes County School District in Mississippi, the most food-insecure county in the United States.

Interview Highlights: Angel Meeks

On what students are facing during the summer in Holmes County

“During the summer, some students are able to continue to access food through the school district. At two of our schools in the district, we have a summer feeding program that allows students to come and have breakfast or lunch, which enables them to continue to receive healthy meals.

But during the summer, for those students who are unable to access the schools, then those children rely on what their parents or community persons have for them to eat for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Sometimes that equates to additional snacks, sometimes that equates to the additional processed food, frozen foods or just sandwiches without the vegetables and whole grains that they need.”

On what factors are driving poor nutrition

“I think there’s a combination, I believe parents are educated and aware of the difference between processed food and whole and healthy food. Some parents work here in Holmes County. Some parents have to work outside of the county, which means that they have to leave home early. But also it has to do with access. The local stores in the Holmes County area are smaller than some of the chain stores you find in more urban and suburban areas, and so what’s available for parents to receive is limited.

To help offset that, we have some local farmers now that have different markets available to help community persons access healthy food and not only healthier food, but we have some local organic farms here in Holmes County to help.”

On what health effects students deal with

“There are some children who are not obese, they are malnourished, on the other side of the fence. It has an impact on their ability to be energetic and lively and engaged in various activities, or engaged in learning when they return to school.”

On the local response

“We’re a small-knit community so generally we look out for one another. If we know of students who may not have access to resources after hours, then our teachers and our administrators, faculty and staff, we just kind of take it upon ourselves to look out for our children.”

On personal experience with students in need of food

“I had a student, I had to take him home late one evening, and because of the time I said, ‘Well, we need to make sure he has something to eat.’ So we stopped by the local convenience store, and that child was looking out for his younger sibling. And you know, it never dawned on me until I asked him as I was letting him out to go home, and he’s was like, ‘Well I have to make sure my sister has something to eat.’

That was an eye opener for me to be aware that sometimes we’re looking at one individual student, when there may be other children who are not even school age who may be going without nutritious meals. It again speaks to our ability as a community to look out for one another, because that young man was looking out for his sister.”

Guest

Angel Meeks, Holmes County School District superintendent.

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