We know the path to poverty starts at an early age, when low-income children do not have access to the same opportunities as their more advantaged peers. Now, more than ever, research has shown the earliest years of life can set the stage for lifelong physical and mental health and academic success. Children thrive when responsive and sensitive adults care for them; participate in regular, stimulating early learning experiences; and enjoy healthy food and active play. United Way works to ensure that our youngest community members start out life on an even playing field.
ACCESS TO HEALTHY FOOD
Summer Meals Expansion Project
Children who rely on free school meal programs to supply foundational daily nutrition are at greater risk of going hungry during the summer months when those programs are not available. Currently, 80% of eligible children do not access free summer lunch programs in our community due to lack of transportation and awareness. Increasing the number of meal sites and taking meals out to where children live (low-income apartments, mobile home parks, etc.) will result in more meals for more children over the summer break.
As with summer meals, children are also at greater risk of going hungry on weekends and over school breaks when free school meal programs are not available. Power Packs provide kid-friendly meals and snacks to feed kids at risk of going hungry over weekends and school breaks. More than 50,000 Pierce County students are on free lunch programs.
Little Free Pantries and School Care Closets
Little Free Pantries are free-standing structures installed in low-income, low-access neighborhoods stocked with nonperishable food and household items that may be accessed by families in need. Care Closets are located in schools and are filled with kid-friendly food options and other hygiene and household items for students and their families. Little Free Pantries and Care Closets ensure that some food and other essentials are available where families live and go to school and ensure households have access to basics when needed.
One of the best ways we can help kids be successful in the classroom is to keep them reading at grade level. For many kids, that can be a challenge, especially if they don't have any books of their own at home. Currently, 2 in 5 of our kids are entering kindergarten not ready for school. We want to change the equation and make sure all kids have access to enriching programs from the start.
Out of School Time Programs
When children have access to quality programs that reflect their needs and interests, they get fun, safe places to play and their parents know they’re getting the stimulation and care they need. Currently our out-of-school time initiatives include before, afterschool and weekend programs in addition to summer learning opportunities. They are formal and structured opportunities for school-aged youth that can complement the regular school day.