Food for Thought
Showcasing the importance of nutritious meals and engagement during summer

Square One Project Stephanie McLemore Bray

When I was a child, every weekday at noon during the summer, a truck would lumber down the street where I lived and many of my friends would run behind it until it stopped at the end of the block. My friends would come back up the street with a tray that had a sandwich, a small container of apple juice or milk, and a piece of fruit or a fruit cup. For many, it was the only meal they would have that day. I was fortunate: I did not know what food insecurity was. It saddens me to know that after all these many years, there are far too many children who are food insecure. Research shows that the rate of food insecurity, particularly among households with children, increases during summer break. Only 20% of the students who qualify actually participate in a meal program during the summer. To put it another way, the summer nutrition gap affects 67,435 children in Sacramento County alone. 

In 2016, our United Way formed the Sacramento Summer Meals Collaborative which brings together the region’s Summer Food Service Program Sponsors and community advocates to collaborate on ways to increase the involvement of youth in summer programs, raise awareness about summer meals and community meal sites, and develop and implement a regional marketing plan. This regional group which, to date, serves children in Yolo, Placer and Sacramento County, plans to serve nearly 30 summer meal sites this year. Sites will be located at local community centers, schools, libraries and public housing communities. We will serve summer programs and open sites where any child under eighteen can come and receive a healthy, nutritious meal.

A healthy meal is just one way that we meet the needs of children at our meal sites. We feed their minds, too. Many of those children often struggle in school, experience a “summer slide,” and lose much of what they have learned during the school year because of a lack of enrichment opportunities during the summer. To close that education gap, the Collaborative is developing toolkits with activities that will be easy for meal sites to implement this summer. 

The Collaborative is one of the many ways that our United Way’s Square One Project provides families with the support system they need so that children can stay on track. We could not do this without the support of donors, champions and partners, which include: Davis Joint Unified School District; Sacramento Food Bank and Family Services; the program sponsors and sites; and, funders like the Wal-Mart Foundation, Sierra Health Foundation, Bank of America, and the many generous individuals who support United Way. We also could not do this work without the leadership of Kristina Ricci, our program officer for health, and Sayla Elsbree-Kraft, our program coordinator. They work diligently to engage our program partners and the communities that we serve.

It truly takes a village and together, we are making a difference.