Photo by CDC on Unsplash

The South Carolina Department of Education announced a change to its annual free summer food program on Monday. Rebranded as “Summer Break Cafe,” the program, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, provides children with free, accessible meals over summer break, when school lunches are no longer available.

Many families that live below the poverty line rely on free and reduced lunch programs during the school year to help feed their children. The summer program was established and expanded to ensure that food supply remains even when school is out. But even families living above the poverty line often experience food insecurity yet don’t qualify for federal nutrition programs.

“Hunger and malnutrition not only make students more prone to illness and health issues, but can also negatively impact school performance once the semester begins,” S.C. State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman said in a press release. “We’re hoping the Summer Break Cafe fills the nutritional gap and gives students the meals they need and deserve.”  

Feeding America reports that 1 in 7 children in S.C. suffer from food insecurity, defined as the inability to provide the necessary amount of food for all members of a household due to a lack of resources.

Prior to the pandemic, food insecurity among Charleston County kids was decreasing, according to Feeding America. In 2017, 16.2% of kids were food insecure, which went down to 12.2% in 2018 and 11.1% in 2019.

In fact, the organization reported food insecurity numbers were at their lowest rates in 20 years nationwide prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. However, consequences of a global pandemic — unemployment spikes, disruption in food supplies and inflated prices — were a few factors that put families in a position of food insecurity.

Feeding American projects the 2020 child food-insecurity rate in Charleston County is about 16.1%, bringing the number of kids living with food insecurity back to nearly the same numbers as 2017.

The trend isn’t unique to Charleston County. Dorchester County saw a similar pattern with child food insecurity rates decreasing from 15.0% in 2017 to 11.0% in 2019. Now, the 2020 rate is estimated to be 15.6% — an even higher rate than the pre-pandemic numbers.

Any kid under the age of 18 can sign up to receive free breakfast and lunch every day through the program, and meals can be picked up at various locations including churches, parks, schools and libraries.

Signing up isn’t required, but it is encouraged so workers can plan to prepare enough food.

You can find a summer meal pick-up location near you by visiting the Summer Meal Site Finder.

If you’re interested in becoming a sponsor, vendor or volunteer, visit the Summer Break Cafe page.

Love Best of Charleston?

Help the Charleston City Paper keep Best of Charleston going every year with a donation. Or sign up to become a member of the Charleston City Paper club.