This guest blog is authored by Cory Jackson, Director of Nutrition Services, YMCA of Western North Carolina.

When the bell rang in June to mark the end of the school year, children from low-income families in North Carolina lost access to the school meals they relied on during the school year. The Summer Nutrition Programs help close this gap by providing free meals to eligible children 18 and under at YMCAs, schools, churches, and libraries, among other safe sites, across the state. Not only do children stave off hunger as a result of summer meals, they also benefit from educational and recreational activities offered at the sites that keep them active, engaged, and better prepared to return to the classroom in the fall.

This summer, the YMCA of Western North Carolina is partnering with schools to provide free summer meals and programming for youth in their local communities. For many families, these summer meals are critical. “If it wasn’t for the YMCA’s summer meal program, I don’t know how I’d be able to feed my kids healthy meals each day. This program is a real lifesaver,” said a parent from Asheville.

Yet too many children in North Carolina are missing out on these important meals and engagement programs.

The Food Research & Action Center’s recently released summer meals reports found that on an average weekday in North Carolina during July 2017, the Summer Nutrition Programs served lunch to slightly more than 100,000 children, and breakfast to about 55,000 children across the state. Only one child participated in summer lunch for every six who received a free and reduced-price school lunch during the previous school year.

To further increase participation in the Summer Nutrition Programs in North Carolina, the YMCA of Western North Carolina is teaming up with Smithfield Foods and the Food Research & Action Center on the Rally Against Rural Hunger initiative to raise awareness about rural hunger, connect eligible people with federal food assistance programs (including the Summer Nutrition Programs), and help them get the necessary nutrition for their well-being and health. This is important because rural households are more likely to experience food insecurity than those in metropolitan areas, and children who live in rural areas have 26 percent greater odds of becoming obese than children in metropolitan areas.

For more information, check out the Food Research & Action Center’s Summer Nutrition Programs page and resources on rural hunger. The Summer Meal Locator can provide information on summer sites located in your area. For help with summer programs through the YMCA of Western North Carolina, contact Cory Jackson, director of nutrition services, at