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Renowned Latina chef helps spread word about free summer meals for kids, teens

"We just need to make sure that people know that this program is out there," Venezuelan chef, author and TV personality Lorena Garcia said.
Lorena Garcia, chef, author, restaurateur and TV personality serves as No Kid Hungry summer meals ambassador.
Lorena Garcia, chef, author, restaurateur and TV personality serves as No Kid Hungry summer meals ambassador.Courtesy Share Our Strength

Latina chef, author and TV personality Lorena Garcia is partnering with a national nonprofit group to let families know there are free meals available for children and teenagers as more people face hunger and food insecurity amid high food prices.

“We’re really trying to raise awareness, particularly this summer, about the meals that are available — parents and caregivers can find free summer meal sites right in their neighborhood," the Venezuelan American chef said about No Kid Hungry, a campaign by the nonprofit group Share Our Strength based in Washington, D.C., which helps feed children and teenagers across the nation.

Even before the current issues of inflation and steeper food prices, the Covid-19 pandemic fallout resulted in a loss of jobs or reduced hours for millions in the country, leading to more families struggling to put food on the table, according to an analysis by Feeding America, which focuses on equitable access to food.

In 2020, food insecurity for Latinos increased by more than 19%, with Hispanics 2.5 times more likely to experience food insecurity than their white counterparts. Latino children were more than twice as likely to live in food-insecure households than white children, according to the nonprofit group.

A child in Greater New Haven receives summer meals distributed by food truck.
A child in Greater New Haven receives summer meals distributed by food truck.Courtesy Share Our Strength

Additionally, census data indicates that 1 in 6 Latinos live in poverty compared to 1 in 16 non-Latino whites.

Parents and caregivers can find a free summer meal site by texting “FOOD” or “COMIDA” to 304-304 or by visiting the group website’s free meal finder. The free meals provided are for youths 18 and younger.

Summer marks the hungriest time of the year for children since school is no longer in session and there is less access to daily, reliable meals. The No Kid Hungry summer meals programs reach 16% of children nationwide.

Food trucks are often used by community groups and schools to reach kids and teens with summer meals.
Food trucks are often used by community groups and schools to reach kids and teens with summer meals.Courtesy Share Our Strength

García said some of the summer meal programs are providing up to 750,000 meals a day to feed children and teenagers throughout the summer.

"The help is there, we just need to make sure that people know that this program is out there," Garcia, who joined actor and TV cooking personality Ayesha Curry and rapper Big Freedia as No Kid Hungry partners, told NBC News.

As families grapple with the issue of meals in the summer months, millions of students could lose access to free and reduced-price meals after Congress failed to extend the federal Child Nutrition Waivers — introduced during the pandemic — which are set to expire June 30 after two years.

The waivers served as a safety net for families, but were taken out of a package in March to fund the federal government, with top Republicans objecting to their inclusion, as The Washington Post reported.

The average school district could see a 40% decrease in school lunch program funding and lose the flexibility to substitute certain foods amid rising prices and supply chain issues, the Post reported.

According to Politico, the Biden administration is aiming to counter the loss of the waivers by taking $1 billion from a fund in the Agriculture Department to help schools buy supplies for meal programs.

Children in Greater New Haven receive summer meals through food truck distribution. Food trucks are often used by schools and community groups to reach kids and teens with summer meals.
Children in Greater New Haven receive summer meals through food truck distribution. Food trucks are often used by schools and community groups to reach kids and teens with summer meals.Courtesy Share Our Strength

On the West Coast, the USDA approved two waivers for the California Department of Education to supplement meals through the end of September.

"As a chef, I know exactly how food and nutrition are tied to success and happiness,” Garcia said in a previous statement announcing the partnership with No Kid Hungry.

“Every kid deserves to have a full stomach," she stated, "no matter what time of year it is.”

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