I have a confession to make. This may shock some of you, who know me as the gal who knows how to pronounce “quinoa” and “kamut” and gushes over her weekly CSA share over on Instagram. But here it is:

I used to LOVE school lunches.

Seriously. I drooled over those rectangular pizzas with the evenly-spaced pinpricks on their doughy undersides—I loved how they fit perfectly into the rectangular space in the bottom right corner of my plastic lunch tray. I can still picture the boxes of chocolate milk piled high in crates set within a deep refrigerator right outside the entrance to the lunch line. Every now and then they’d serve curly fries, and my toes would curl right along with them. By senior year of high school, I would routinely splurge on a second helping of fries, or another chicken sandwich. Some days, I ate two full lunches. It’d take me another fifteen years or so to appreciate the power of portion control.

The thing is, I never realized that what I played around with and added on to and customized into my personal caloric cacophony was also some of my classmates’ only solid meal of the day.

According to No Kid Hungry (NKH), a national nonprofit dedicated to ending childhood hunger, 13 million children battle food insecurity—that is, they live in households that aren’t equipped to provide them with nutritious food on a regular basis.

Access to healthy food: It’s something I took for granted for a long time. Blissfully ignorant in my middle-class childhood bubble, I thought the kids who ate breakfast at school were lucky, because (at least the way I imagined it) they got to eat sausage and eggs every day. I now realize that many of them relied on those meals because they didn’t have enough food at home.

According to NKH, along with federal programs like SNAP and WIC, 59% of food-insecure households also participate in the National School Lunch Program, which offers free or reduced-price lunches to qualifying children.

So what happens when school’s out?

Consider this: In 2011, the average SNAP benefit was $133.85 per person, or $1.46 per meal. Can you feed yourself for $1.46? I certainly can’t. In fact, I tried to—earlier this year, I wanted to create a series of nutritious recipes that a family of four who receive SNAP benefits could afford. We’re talking $5.84 per meal. I haven’t been able to figure out how to do it yet.

I have the ultimate luxury of being able to see this as a hypothetical scenario. For literally millions of Americans, this is their daily reality.

Luckily, school lunches extend into the summer months, thanks to the Summer Food Service Program funded by the USDA. Here in Howard County, there are four sites where families can take their children to get a free meal:

  • Harper’s Choice Middle School | 11:30 – 1:00 | 5450 Beaverkill Rd, Columbia
  • Murray Hill Middle School | 11:30 – 1:00 | 9989 Winter Sun Rd, Laurel
  • Thomas Viaduct Middle School | 11:30 – 1:00 | 7000 Banbury Dr, Hanover
  • Stevens Forest Elementary School | 12:30 – 2:00 | 6045 Stevens Forest Rd, Columbia

There’s no application, enrollment, or cost to families. The program runs Monday – Friday through August 4. All meals are served on a first-come, first-served basis and must be eaten on site.

The program provided 50,703 meals to Howard County children last summer, a 15,000-meal increase from the summer of 2015. Bottom line: Howard County—the fourth-richest county in the entire country (based on median household income), by the way—has thousands of residents that rely on programs like this.

It’s just one meal a day, and it’s not a complete solution, but every little bit helps. Please help me spread the word to local families!

{And if you happen to be a reader that doesn’t live in Howard County (Hiya!), fear not—the Summer Food Service Program is nationwide. You can go here to find out where the free meals are in your community. You can also text “FOOD” to 877-877 to find programs near you.}