For many kids, summer means picnics, playtime and fun in the sun; ice cream on the beach; or dinners at a favorite restaurant. But for some kids—more than you might think—summer can be a time of uncertainty or "insecurity" as some call it when it comes to food and nutrition.
In the summer, many kids who rely on school during the academic year to provide breakfast and/or lunch will find it more of a challenge to eat well, if much at all. That's why there's a strong need to fill the gap left in summer so kids can stay adequately nourished.
Fortunately, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) created the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). Originally formed in 1968 as part of a larger pilot program, SFSP has operated as a separate program since 1975. It provides low-income children 18-years-old and under with free nutritious meals (breakfast and/or lunch) that meet federal nutrition guidelines throughout the summer. Meals are provided at approved SFSP sites in areas with significant concentrations of low-income children.
Unfortunately, only a fraction of children eligible for the free meals are provided with them. According to Kevin Concannon, the Under Secretary for the USDA's Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services, "Of the 21 million children who receive free and reduced-priced meals through the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) during the regular school year, only 3.5 million children participate in summer meal programs."
The good news is that 168 million meals (that includes all SFSP meals and NSLP lunches served in July) were served in the summer of 2013, up from 161 million meals served the summer before. The USDA hopes to continue on this upward trajectory and increase meals served—and children fed—this upcoming summer and needs our help to spread the word to connect these free meals with kids who need them.
Schools, park and recreation departments, libraries, and faith and other community organizations across the nation can provide summer meals through SFSP. To achieve its goal to serve even more eligible children this summer, the program relies on community partners to serve as sponsors or provide meal sites.
Anyone—individuals, schools and community organizations—can help connect SFSP to eligible children and their families.
Because the deadlines for becoming an SFSP sponsor vary from state to state, schools and organizations interested in being a sponsor should contact their state administering agency, usually the state department of education as soon as possible.
To register your site to provide summer meals or to find a summer meal site in your community, call 1-866-3-Hungry or 1-877-8-Hambre (in Spanish). You can also visit the National Hunger Hotline resource directory.
Image of elementary pupils collecting healthy lunch in cafeteria via shutterstock.