Santa Monica is home to four Farmers' Markets where shoppers can purchase the freshest produce directly from those who grow it. (File photo)

By Avery Yang
Daily Press Intern

During the school year, more than 21 million kids nationwide receive free and reduced-price meals but only 3.8 million children are provided the same services during their summer vacations.

Especially in Los Angeles, where one in four children struggles with hunger, and in Los Angeles County — which tops the list of counties with the most children living in fear of food insecurity — the hunger gap is still a persistent issue.

“[The hunger gap] has been pretty consistent and constant in the last several years,” Santa Monica Boys and Girls Club Area Director Garron Campbell said.

Sodexo, a food services corporation based out of France, via their Feeding Our Future program, has been trying to bridge that hunger gap for the past 17 years.

Through grants, the Los Angeles Sodexo team is given the funds needed to produce meals to underprivileged children throughout Los Angeles County.

The local Sodexo teams, in turn, parlay the grants they receive into meal programs with local organizations such as the ones at the Santa Monica Boys and Girls Club and the Mar Vista Family Center in Culver City, where more than 1,200 children will receive free breakfast and lunch. This summer, the Los Angeles Sodexo team will have given away more than 250,000 meals since beginning their program in 1999.

“If we didn’t get this program from Sodexo, we would have to pay for the food ourselves, and that would be a huge expense,” Campbell said.

“Our program services would decrease because that would mean less available money to put into activities for kids or to fund staff for the summers, so Sodexo is a lifesaver.”

The local Sodexo teams usually funnel their food services through dining service programs at local universities, hospitals or corporations. In Los Angeles, Sodexo’s dining service team is at Loyola Marymount University.

“It has been — for me and for those who have worked with me for the past five years — a very rewarding piece of what we do on a day-to-day basis,” Sodexo director of operations at Loyola Marymount University Dana Massimiani said.

“To have an opportunity to help these programs to give back to the community that you live in gives you that extra oomph to get up in the morning, and it gives you the feeling that you’re more rooted in the community.”

Massimiani is quick to defer the credit for the program off to the staff at facilities similar to the Santa Monica Boys and Girls Club and the Mar Vista Family Center, however.

“The real heroes are the men and women at the facilities who are providing the full service to the children — not just food, but the teaching, entertainment and activities that they’re coordinating, Massimiani said. “The food is just one small part — and we’re aware of that — but we’re happy to play that small part.”