The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines food insecurity as “a household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food.”
According to Feeding America’s recently released annual “Map the Meal Gap” report, almost one in four Arizona youth are food-insecure. Statewide, that equates to nearly 371,000 children. The food insecurity rate for youth nationally is 17.5 percent, while the rate in Arizona is 22.7 percent.
The Torah Day School of Phoenix is doing its part to help this vulnerable population. For the past four years, each summer the school has distributed free breakfasts and lunches to youth 18 years old and younger, whether or not they attend the school.
The federal government subsidizes the meals as part of the Summer Food Service Program, which began in 1968.
“They want to make sure that poor children during the summer, whether or not they’re in school, are able to have a meal,” explained Gabby Friedman, Torah Day School’s vice president and office manager. “Different places open up their doors to children and they provide meals and that’s what we’re doing, too.”
The school typically feeds between 150 and 170 students a day during the summer, including both those participating in the school’s summer camp and walk-ins. All the meals served at the school are kosher.
The school has been spreading the word about its participation by posting flyers at various locations throughout the community, from synagogues and an Arizona Department of Economic Security office to Goodwill locations and grocery stores. It also places announcements in local papers.
Last summer, the Arizona Department of Education reported that 175 school districts, charter networks, private schools and nonprofit organizations sponsored 1,038 summer meals sites. Seventy-one school administrations and nonprofits sponsored more than 590 sites in Maricopa
County. Last year, the program served nearly 3.2 million meals statewide, with nearly 2 million of these in Maricopa County. In summer 2017, the Torah Day School of Phoenix provided more than 12,000 meals to children at its Phoenix location.
“If children don’t have adequate food, then we can’t expect them to learn or develop in a way that will lead to them becoming healthy and productive members of society,” said Judy Krysik, the director of the Center for Child Well-Being at ASU and an associate professor at ASU’s School of Social Work. “All of this safety net of programs, they’re dependent on that for nutrition and their shelter.
“If these programs didn’t exist, we’d have a lot of kids going hungry.” JN