By Warren Talbot
---- — LAWRENCE - A new report indicates that nearly one in five children are in danger of going hungry on a daily basis in the United States, and that the problem is greater during the summer when school breakfast and lunch programs are not available to them.
The report by the nonprofit Feeding America, based its information on statistics provided by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
It characterizes the children as living in “a food insecure household or a household where the members are unable to consistently access the adequate amount of nutritious food necessary for a healthy life.”
Although Massachusetts ranks 47th in the nation with such a problem, the report still estimated that more than 235,000 children in the state still live in a “food insecure household.”
This summer, the antihunger organization Project Bread hopes to reach those children by awarding more than $160,000 to 425 Summer Food Service Program locations in 37 communities, including seven programs in the Merrimack Valley.
The money will be used for breakfasts, lunches, snacks, or dinners at summer meal sites in schools, parks, public pools, neighborhood centers, and other program locations. The seven awards to the Merrimack Valley total $12,770 to programs in Haverhill, Lawrence, and Lowell.
From September to June, school meals provide children with a consistent and reliable protection against hunger. In the summer months, these children need another source of food in order to remain healthy and return to school in the fall ready to learn. All meals are free to children and youth 18 years and under, no registration or sign-up necessary.
Ellen Parker, executive director of Project Bread, many of the summer meals programs also offer activities to attract children and keep them busy.
Michelle Polanco, executive director of Community Service Agency in Lawrence, said in a goal of their summer program is to offer activities promoting eating healthy foods, exercising, and maintaining a healthy weight.
“We do this by providing a variety of activities such as reading, nutrition games, and physical activities through sports, daily exercises, and yoga,” she said in a statement released by Project Bread.
Most sites will be open by July 1 and all generally run until mid August. Parents, guardians, and teens can get exact dates and a complete list of programs in the Merrimack Valley area by calling Project Bread’s FoodSource Hotline at 1-800-645-8333 or by going to www.projectbread.org/summermeals. Through Project Bread’s Text 4 Food campaign, students can also be directed to a free meal at the nearest open Summer Food Service Program by texting 617-863-6325.