BALTIMORE — Healthy lunches are tough to come by for children once school ends and the summer months begin.
Parents and caretakers are primarily busy at work and the fruit, vegetable, carton of milk and otherwise healthy noon time meal that children receive at school can too often turn into, well, something less healthy when school’s out.
However, for eight weeks, children in Baltimore can benefit from a summer meal and nutrition program sponsored by the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) through a $2.3 million grant from the Walmart Foundation.
“Food is one of the most important things we do together,” said Karrie Denniston, the director of hunger relief and nutrition at the Walmart Foundation.
“These programs represent one really important way that allows us to help these communities in being able to give people access to that really important feeling of sharing a meal,” Denniston said.
The summer feeding programs take place at more than 7,700 communities across the country and serve more than 1 million low-income children, according to a report in USA Today.
Beginning in mid-June when school usually ends, the program extends until the end of August — and for some sites, throughout the rest of the year.
The Walmart Foundation is a part of the Walmart business that focuses on hunger relief, sustainability, women’s economic empowerment and career enhancement.
Seven non-profits are participating in this summer feeding and nutrition program endeavor, including the YMCA and the NRPA, which have $5.3 million and $2.3 million focused on the efforts, respectively.
Last year, the Food Research and Action Center found only one in six children from low-income backgrounds had access to these meals over the summer, officials at the Walmart Foundation said.
Locally, the program is available at 41 Camp Baltimore sites and the city has been awarded a $30,000 cash grant to increase the number of healthy meals served to low-income youth.
Additionally, the NRPA provided $10,500 of in-kind nutrition literacy program donations to help educate children on nutrition, the human body, and the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Baltimore was one of 80 grant recipients for the 2015 out-of-school time program grants supported by the Walmart Foundation.
Denniston said the organization aimed to find gaps in how families can access affordable food during the summer, when school programs aren’t as apparent.
“That’s really where this comes in because we see that there’s a huge opportunity for families who may not have the means to access them,” Denniston said, adding that education is at the forefront of the program since it would allow families to learn about where they can access these affordable meals and how to cook them.
Baltimore families can take advantage of the program by signing up their child for Camp Baltimore, which is free for residents.
To find a list of camp sites, hours and information on signing up, visit http://bcrp.baltimorecity.gov/Recreation/CampBaltimore.aspx.