One in four children in Milwaukee go to bed hungry and now that school is out for summer, the problem is even worse because many of those children rely on school meal programs.
A woman named Cinnamon didn’t want to show her face on camera, but as a Milwaukee mother of four, she feels the need to share the struggle she faces to feed her family.
"The school provides food, breakfast, lunch, snacks sometimes but they're not there, they don't get to eat,” she said.
Cinnamon said summertime can be especially problematic for many families as they try to provide their kids three nutritious meals a day without the means or transportation to do so.
"At any point in time, if I know I'm not going to have anything for dinner, I'm on the phone calling my parents or relatives or a food pantry trying to get something for them to eat at least,” she said.
Milwaukee’s Hunger Task Force is the main supplier for local food banks, soup kitchens, homeless shelters and senior centers, but director Sherrie Tussler said their staff faces a major challenge each summer as they provide 800,000 meals to prevent the summer slide.
"Hunger affects one in four children in the city of Milwaukee so this morning, kids woke up and there was no food in the house and that's a problem, so the Hunger Task Force makes sure there are meal sites that are open across the city,” she said.
A recent study found one in 11 households in Wisconsin experience low or very low food security, but here in Milwaukee, Tussler said food deserts create an even greater need. There are 13 neighborhoods spread throughout the city’s north and south sides that are more than half a mile or a ten-minute walk from a grocery store. Tussler said this means people often have to purchase food at convenience stores instead.
“They're more likely to spend more money for less food as a result of having to depend on those local grocery stores that are smaller format,” she said.
To address those areas and many others, Hunger Task Force is teaming up with Milwaukee Public Schools to provide boxes of free and healthy foods for families each week of the summer at more than a dozen schools.
Another program the Hunger Task Force supports called ‘Gorilla To Go’ sends food right to families’ doorsteps or their closest bus stop.
“Hunger builds, frankly, and by the time we hit August we have some serious challenges,” Tussler said.
The Hunger Task Force is far from the only organization fighting the summer nutrition gap. On Monday, the Salvation Army joined forces with the Milwaukee Brewers to kick off their ‘Feed the Kids’ program — hoping to feed 50,000 children free of charge for the next ten weeks at 21 locations throughout the city.
"It's a place to find hope and opportunity for them to know that they're not forgotten really through all of this and through COVID. There's so much going on and we're starting to get back out, but who can I trust, what can I do, and we want the Salvation Army to be that trust for a lot of different families,” said Salvation Army Major Steven Woodard.
The pandemic has only magnified the need in Milwaukee. If you would like to help, consider this: a $25 donation can provide dinners for a child for an entire week. For more information, click here.