Every year, on and around June 21st, United Way’s Day of Action, we harness the power of volunteer spirit to improve lives and build stronger communities around the world. This year, we’re focused on efforts to reduce hunger and prevent “summer slide” (when students, especially ones from low-income families, fall behind on reading and math during summer break). Today, thousands of volunteers will create literacy kits, collect school supplies, distribute meals, plant community gardens, and much more.
We didn’t choose to focus on hunger and summer slide at random; the two issues are linked. Research shows that kids who have healthy nutritious food to eat every day are more likely to succeed in school. And yet research also tells us that right now, one in five children in the United States (around 15 million) face hunger. To make matters worse, 86%of kids in either a free or reduced meal program during the school year will lose their school provided lunch over the summer. Many of these same kids don’t have the money to afford summer learning opportunities, causing them to fall behind their middle-income peers.
While this year’s Day of Action is a great opportunity to call attention to hunger and summer learning, it’s important to also note that many United Ways are engaged on these issues all summer long, every year. In Atlanta, for example, the Silence the Growl campaign has raised enough money over the last two years to provide 38,000 summer meals to kids. This year, they’re setting a new goal of 60,000 meals, driven in part by the hard work of 1,000 volunteer from corporate partners like Deloitte, Salesforce, and more.
Meanwhile, Dallas is in their second year of the Silence the Growl campaign; last year, they raised $43,000 to fight summer hunger.
In Boston, United Way’s Summer Learning Collaborative works with BOSTnet, UPS, Women United, and other partners to offer fun and engaging literacy activities at 27 community-based summer program sites that serve low-income youth. Since its inception, nearly 20,000 children have participated in the Summer Learning Collaborative, and the initiative is showing impressive results: last year, 82% of children participating avoided summer learning loss. What’s more, 65% of children gained literacy skills and 70% of children advanced from the lowest reading level.
Summer hunger and learning loss are serious challenges that affect us all, but together we can overcome them. That’s what United Way is all about—the notion that we truly are greater than the sum of our parts, and we all benefit from the change we create together.