The following is an opinion piece by YMCA Greater Boston CEO Kevin Washington, submitted by the YMCA.
Summer vacation for most kids means backyard barbeques, hot dogs and s’mores by a glowing camp fire. But for the 250,000 children who received free or reduced lunch during the school year, summer vacation can be a time of worry and hunger.
For some low-income Boston families, providing three meals a day for their children can be a near impossibility, especially when the last school bell rings for the summer and children lose their access school lunches. In 2011, according to the Child Defense Fund, more than 200,000 Massachusetts children received food stamps. The same study also showed that the number of children in Massachusetts enrolled in a Summer Food Service Program was a little more than 50,000, leaving more than 200,000 hungry or underfed young people in the Commonwealth.
While the need is there, many are unaware that within their own neighborhoods all children, 18 years old or younger can receive a free, healthy, breakfast, lunch or dinner at one of 200 locations throughout the city that provide meals as a part of the Summer Food Service Program. Locations include schools, community centers, churches, Boston Housing Authority sites, Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) pools, and YMCAs.
This summer, the YMCA of Greater Boston is currently operating 21 Summer Food Service Program sites at many of its branches as well as offsite locations to fulfill the needs of low-income communities. During the summer months, the Y is the largest organization that feeds children. Y branches in Allston/Brighton, Boston, Chinatown, Dorchester, East Boston, Hyde Park, Roxbury, and surrounding communities serve 130,000 meals to 1,900 children. Many of the meals we serve are to the children enrolled in our summer camp programs, but for some of our branches, like the Waltham YMCA where we could potentially accommodate 250 diners, we only distribute 150 meals daily.
The long summer of hunger also translates into a long summer without learning. A 2007 study by Johns Hopkins researchers proved that summer learning loss has a greater effect on lower and middle class families. Who can think clearly or be motivated to learn when their stomach is growling?
Y camp counselors and administrations realized there was a problem when campers were being dropped off without lunch or were exhausted early in the morning. They recognized poor nutrition as the cause and knew that we could help fill this gap in our communities. Meals are now served at all YMCA of Greater Boston camps so that we can continue to help our kids learn, participate and grow, reducing the effects of summer brain drain.
As part of the YMCA’s Summer Food Program, children receive up to two meals a day and participate in recreational and learning activities to keep their bodies and minds active. The goal is to help children stay well-nourished and energized all summer long while providing important relief to struggling families. Healthy bodies create healthy communities. There are no forms to fill out or proof of income required. Our doors are open. Come and eat with us.
Kevin Washington is the YMCA of Greater Boston’s 12th CEO since it was founded in 1851 as America’s first YMCA. A father and former Y camper, Washington first learned how to swim and hone his basketball skills at his local Y.