It’s called the “summer slide,” but it’s no fun.
Rather, it’s that time of year when school is out, and learning, particularly for low-income kids, lags. Educational researchers are discovering now that hunger often plays a key part in the phenomenon.
In Illinois, an electric cooperative confronted the problem head-on and recently delivered nearly half a ton of food to a community pantry.
“During summer, many children are home from school, and their needs are greater,” said Gayle Ford, the administrative executive assistant at Eastern Illini Electric Cooperative in Paxton who coordinated the food drive. “Children have breakfast or lunch at school. When school is out, that meal is taken away.”
All 56 employees of the co-op contributed to the 35-day food drive, which netted 909 pounds for The Gathering Place in Champaign County, part of EIEC’s southern service territory, where 15% of the children experience food insecurity, Ford said.
The organization was “overwhelmed” by the co-op’s large and unexpected gift, she noted.
“People are giving less [food] now. You think about hunger in the winter months, not in the summer,” said Ford.
From blood drives to breast cancer awareness events and school supply collections, EIEC seeks various ways to show its concern for community throughout the year, but this was their first food drive.
Staffers in different departments formed teams and competed to bring the most donations to the co-op’s June safety meeting. The idea came from Graham Schmid, a line foreman in Pesotum, where the co-op has an office 45 miles south of its headquarters. Employees at the co-op’s Gilman office, about 20 miles to the north, also got involved.
Even the co-op’s summer work crew of local teens helped by loading all the donated goods on a truck for delivery.
Dylan Polson, 19, said he was impressed with the generosity of the co-op staff and personally understood how the food drive would assist area children.
“I’m happy to help the younger kids,” he said. “When I was in high school, I was hungry, so I know how they feel.”
Polson said his participation in the EIEC food drive opened his eyes to consider more volunteer work.
“If you have the opportunity to help out others,” he said, “do it.”
Cathy Cash is a staff writer at NRECA.