Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – Michaela loves third grade: spelling, multiplication, friendships and, well, lunch. Turns out, for Michaela, lunch is as critical to her development as the academic and social progress she’s making. Michaela is one of 34 percent of children in her school eligible for free and reduced-price school lunch. While many aren’t surprised that our local kids benefit from this critical program, what’s more unexpected is this: Michaela doesn’t live in the city of Pittsburgh, but rather, a suburb.
Right now, throughout Allegheny County, one in six of our kids qualifies for free and reduced-price school meals. This means that more than 43,000 of our local children are depending on this sustenance, which is proven to be essential for learning, growth and development. In fact, children who lack good nutrition are three times more likely to suffer from poor health.
Why mention this now, as school lets out for the summer? Well, consider that our same 43,000 children will be without this critical nutrition after the school year ends. Throughout Allegheny County, more than 300 sites distribute summer food via lunches and camp programs. However, only one child for every seven that qualifies for a summer food program takes advantage of it. Often, transportation is a barrier for children being able to access sites, especially in the summer while their parents are at work.
So how do we, as a community, make sure our children have access to food during the summer months? While there’s been plenty of local discourse about food deserts, defined as urban areas where it’s difficult to buy affordable or good-quality fresh food, less has been said about “transit deserts,” where poor transit access makes for poor food access. Here in Allegheny County, 14 percent of households do not have access to cars. Of renter households, 76.5 percent do not have access to cars.
This is why 412 Food Rescue is working so hard to develop innovative ways to help local families access food beyond our community’s local food pantries, which are often stretched beyond capacity during the summer months. We continue to create new food access points with a goal of putting people within a 15-minute walk of food access.
Hunger is not a problem any of us can solve alone. By working together, with our community’s best and brightest minds — and the biggest hearts — we can develop ideas, tools and resources that address food insecurity. This is critical to our children, to the future of Allegheny County and to Michaela, who is already looking forward to starting fourth grade when summer comes to an end.
Leah Lizarondo is co-founder and CEO of 412 Food Rescue.