UW Combined Fund Drive

May 24, 2023

Addressing summer hunger for kids in our communities

Top view of a paper bag full of canned food, fruits, vegetables, eggs, a milk bottle, berries, mushrooms, nuts, pasta, a chocolate bar and bread. The paper bag is laying on the white background and the food is coming out from it.

Nutritious, plant-forward meals are crucial to helping kids thrive during the summer months–but without the security of school meals, many families rely on summer meal sites to help. 

Food insecurity is defined as not having enough food to lead a healthy life. Undernutrition is lack of proper nutrition, caused by not having enough food or not eating enough food containing substances necessary for growth and health. The two are related, and both are a serious problem in Washington and across the country.

In Washington state, those who cannot consistently put food on their tables more than doubled during the COVID-19 pandemic. The number of food-insecure families remains high.

Many households that experience food insecurity do not qualify for federal nutrition programs and need to rely on their local food banks/pantries and other hunger relief organizations for support (see list below for local programs to support).

In the U.S. and worldwide, people of color, migrants, indigenous populations, and refugees experience food insecurity at twice the rate of the general population. At the root of many of these disparities are poverty, inequity, and social injustice: according to nonprofit Action Against Hunger, one in three children in low- and middle-income countries suffers from chronic malnutrition, while nearly half of all child deaths worldwide are from causes related to undernutrition.

The need for subsidized summer food

To address hunger during the summer months, schools and community-based organizations can operate summer meals sites using federal funds from the Summer Food Service Program. When schools are closed, the Summer Meals Program provides free meals to all children (age 0 through 18) in areas where 50% or more kids qualify for free/reduced price school meals.

Unfortunately, Washington consistently ranks near the bottom 15 states in the country in reaching low-income children who receive subsidized school meals.

In Washington, 1 in 6 kids struggles with hunger (Northwest Harvest)

Despite social programs in place to help alleviate food insecurity, including SNAP and food banks, many kids rely on school meal programs. Nearly one-third of students in Seattle Public Schools receive free or reduced lunch – meaning, a lot of kids and teens in Washington face uncertainty about their next meal.

Summertime can put an added strain on low-income families whose children receive free and reduced-price meals during the school year. Historically, in King County, less than 20% of school-aged youth who access free and reduced-price meals during the school year access free meals over the summer. Ensuring that kids have access to nutritious food where they live, learn and play is a year-round goal but is especially important during the summer to help kids stay healthy and active.

Become a champion for those experiencing hunger–advocate through Northwest Harvest

Equitable access to nourishing food is a human right. You can support organizations working to realize this truth through volunteerism or financial support.

Community Program Highlight: United Way’s Summer Meals

Over the past decade, United Way of King County significantly expanded their summer meals program by partnering with organizations to provide meals and staffing support to more than 70 meal sites in King County, as well as leading statewide outreach and marketing for the summer meals program. Across Seattle, children ages 1 through 18 will continue receiving healthy breakfast, lunch, and dinner meals through the summer starting June 27.

Volunteer with the United Way to help alleviate hunger in our communities! Join the Backpack Brigade to deliver food to students in need or pack meals for homeless and food insecure children in need of weekend hunger relief.


Consider making a one-time gift or setting up monthly payroll deduction through the UWCFD to one of our member organizations providing equitable access to nourishing food in our communities:

United Way of King County (charity code 0316726): Committed to improving our community in lasting ways by ending homelessness, supporting early learning, providing for basic needs and enhancing the ability of people to care for one another.

Northwest Harvest (charity code 0316358): The mission of Northwest Harvest is to provide nutritious food to hungry people statewide in a manner that respects their dignity, while fighting to eliminate hunger.

Feeding America (charity code 0464861): Working to advance change in America by ensuring equitable access to nutritious food for all in partnership with food banks, policymakers, supporters, and the communities served.

No Kid Hungry (charity code 0497068): No Kid Hungry is a national campaign run by Share Our Strength, a nonprofit working to solve problems of hunger and poverty in the United States and around the world. As a child hunger organization, ending childhood hunger is the primary focus.

University of Washington Husky Hunger Relief (charity code 1482050): To support hunger relief programs, including the Campus Food Pantry, which address the needs of our UW community students, faculty staff who are experiencing food insecurity and hunger.

University District Food Bank (charity code 0316382): For nearly 30 years, we have provided nutritious food to low-income seniors, adults and children living in Northeast Seattle neighborhoods. Each week, about 1,100 different households rely on us to help meet their nutrition needs.

Food Lifeline (charity code 0463199): Feeding people facing hunger today and working to end hunger for tomorrow. Each dollar donated provides enough food for three meals. We help feed hungry people in communities throughout Western Washington.

Accessing summer meals

Seattle’s Children and Youth Summer Food Service Program, or summer meals program, was established to provide nourishing meals to kids ages 1-18 when school is not in session – particularly, the long weeks of summer break. Sites will operate July 5 through August 25, 2023, with a variety of locations, including parks, community centers and schools.

The United Way of King County has a summer meals search tool that displays sponsor, site, and meal information with online mapping tools.

Additional resources