In just a few days, school bells across North Carolina will ring one last time, signaling summer break has begun.
For most , it’s a time to chase after the ice cream truck, bury their feet in sand and swim until their skin shrivels like a raisin.
But for many others, it’s a signal that their stomachs will grumble a lot more often.
For students who receive free or reduced-price breakfast and lunch at school during the academic year, it can mean going hungry.
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That’s what started the Back to Summer Food Drive last year at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church on Suther Road in University City, and why the congregation is turning the event into an annual tradition.
“Things are tough,” said Mark Nash, deacon at St. Thomas, helps organize the food drive each year. “With the economy – people losing their jobs, even the price of gas now – we knew there was going to be more of a need.”
Nash’s wife, Heidi, is a teacher in the Kannapolis City Schools, where 72 percent of the students received free or reduced-price meals this year. In the neighboring Cabarrus County Schools, 42 percent take free or reduced-price meals. In the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, that number is 54 percent.
All three districts offer summer feeding programs. In Kannapolis, free lunches will be served beginning June 18 for anyone in the community ages 2 through 18.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg provides a hot lunch at 40 schools within the district and arranges picnic lunches for 130 community agency-sponsored summer camps that serve economically disadvantaged children.
“Under the Summer Food Program, sites have to be located in economically disadvantaged areas of town,” said Kasia Thompson, media relations specialist at CMS. “Anyone ages 1 to 18 who comes to the site will receive a meal at no charge.”
Despite those efforts, the local food pantries still become taxed in June, July and August.
“During the summer, we have more requests for fruit, fruit juices, kid-friendly foods such as peanut butter, and vegetables,” said Sharon W. Davis, director of Catholic Social Services of the Diocese of Charlotte. “Families already struggling with having enough food to eat face an even greater challenge with putting more food on their tables.”
Last year Catholic Social Services served more 2,700 children during the summer. This summer they expect to serve more than 3,000 children.
St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church hopes to help them do that. Half the food acquired during the drive will go to the organization. The other half will go to the Harrisburg United Methodist food pantry.
Last year parishioners brought in 8,000 pounds of food during the drive, providing enough fruit cups, peanut butter crackers and mac-and-cheese meals to fill 16 pickup truck beds.
Nash hopes other organizations will consider beginning summer food drives, too.
“Many times we’ve done things that we saw someone else doing and thought, ‘Hey we can do that too,’ ” he said. “Hopefully, maybe we will inspire some other people to do the same thing.”