Schools out and its summer break, for many a time for relaxation, vacations, fun and some sunshine but for some, it’s a bit more stressful. Millions of children who rely on free and reduced-priced school breakfast and lunch during the school year, lose access to those meals when summer break begins. The federal government provides funding for the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and the Seamless Summer Option (SSO). Both are key to bringing nutritious meals and snacks to children during the summer months.
The SFSP was established through U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to ensure children continue to receive nutritious meals when school is not in session. It offers funding for nutritious meals to be served to every child 18 years and younger. It is a federally-funded, state-administered program. The SFSP provides meal reimbursement to providers or sponsors who serve free, healthy meals to children and teens in low-income areas during the summer.
How does it work? There are three main players: the state agency, which in Washington is the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), the sponsors, who are organizations, schools, camps, and local governments that have the ability to manage a food service program, and the sites. The sites, are places in the community where children actually receive meals in a safe and supervised environment like schools, parks, libraries, migrant centers, and churches.
Nationally 15 in every 100 students who are served a free lunch at school during the school year participates in the summer meals program. That brings to mind the following questions: “What about the other 85 children?” “What are they eating or are they eating at all?” According to the June 2017 FRAC Report, “Hunger Doesn’t Take a Vacation: Summer Nutrition Status Report”, Washington State had a 23.3% decline from 2015 to 2016 in summer meal participation. That means in Washington, only 11 in every 100 who eats a free lunch at school during the school year, eats a summer meal.
How do we meet the needs of hungry kids in Washington State?
1. Spread the Word About Summer Meals
Consider promoting the summer meals program in your community with flyers, websites, posters and other communications for families to find a site near them. Families can search the internet using “Summer Meals Rocks” which will take them to the USDA site. This site also contains numerous resources and ready to use tools for you and other leaders to market summer meals. If access to a computer is limited, families can call: 1-866-EAT-MEAL (1-866-328-6325) for the Summer Meals Locator.
Volunteering is another great way to offer support. The Washington State Dairy Council has been proud to support Summer Meals by volunteering and partnering with other organizations, coalitions and agencies to increase awareness and participation. Sites can always use volunteers to bring education and physical activities for the children and their families. Our coalitions have provided large plastic banners for sponsors to publicize “Eat Here Free This Summer” at meal sites along with creating radio and television PSA’s promoting “Summer Meals Rock.”
2. Help Make Sites Fun
Activities combined with healthy, federally funded meals provide the basics for meeting children’s needs to keep them learning and well-nourished so they are better prepared to return to the classroom in the fall. Activities attract and keep students coming back for fun, friends and food.
3. Make Sure There's A Site Near You
Why is the participation down? One of the primary reasons is the limited number of sites available to low income children. For ideas for getting started, reach out to our state agency, OSPI and learn more about becoming a sponsor or site for this program. Visit the OSPI website for contact information and a meal site locator where you just enter a zip code to find the closest site in your area.
There are so many more ways we can fight hunger in Washington State and supporting summer meals participation is an easy one. Let’s keep our kids well fed this summer and encourage families to take advantage of this wonderful program. Maybe together we can grow the average number of summer meals consumed from 37,530 per day to 50,000. Summer Meals Rock!