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Summer is No Vacation from Hunger for Some TN Kids

More community partners are needed in Tennessee at sites willing to serve summer meals to children in need across the state. (Bunches and Bits/Flickr)
More community partners are needed in Tennessee at sites willing to serve summer meals to children in need across the state. (Bunches and Bits/Flickr)
May 31, 2017

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - As thousands of Tennessee children rejoice at the beginning of summer break, roughly one in four also will struggle to find enough to eat when school is out.

More than 25 percent of children in the state are considered "food insecure," according to the Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee. The gap in resources is driving programs around the state, gearing up to supply some of those kids' nutritional needs during the summer months.

Sam Compton, youth programs manager for the Second Harvest Food Bank of East Tennessee, said the need is greater than you might imagine.

"Everyone knows that there is a problem with hunger; I think people don't realize the scale of the problem," he said. "We're just trying to meet those needs, and if you don't have anything to eat, you're not going to do anything else well."

Compton said his food bank alone serves 12,000 children during the school year with food for weekends. The goal is to reach at least half that many during the summer through camps, church programs and other community events. Tennessee has the 14th-highest child food-insecurity rate in the country. Hardeman, Haywood, Lake, Lauderdale and Shelby counties rank at the top of the list.

It costs about $25 per child to provide food through a summer program. While donations of food and money always are appreciated, Compton said they're also looking for new sites and partner organizations to help distribute the food.

"This program's in place and we're doing great things. We already have a lot of great partners, but we need more," he said. "We're interested in hearing from folks that might be serving an at-risk population that would benefit form having some food sent home from that program."

The state of Tennessee helps administer a summer feeding program, and last year helped provide 3.6 million summer meals. Multiple studies have shown that hunger creates chronic health, psychological and behavioral conditions.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - TN