By Kevin Concannon, USDA Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services
While the kids are exuberantly shouting, “School’s out!” many parents may be quietly worrying just how they’re going to feed their kids all summer long. I want to assure those moms, dads and caregivers that USDA has a program that can help.
All it takes is a toll free phone call to find a USDA Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) site where children in low-income areas can get a free meal during the summer months when schools are closed. The National Hunger Hotline (1-866-3-HUNGRY or 1-866-348-6479) can give you locations of Summer Food Service Program sites open in your local area. Just provide your zip code and the Hotline operator will tell you if there is a site near where you live. This information is also available to Spanish speakers, 1-877-8-HAMBRE.
Summer meals are free for children 18 and under at open sites. In addition to a healthy meal, the program offers enjoyable learning activities held in a safe place where kids can play with friends and make new ones.
Summer meal sites are located at libraries, schools, family centers, youth drop-in centers, park and recreation centers, faith-based organizations, day camps and food banks, and many other locations where children come together during the summer months. Sites offer activities such as arts and crafts, drama, sports, computer training, music and reading that keep kids interested and coming back day after day. I’ve personally visited many sites and know that the kids have a great time and enjoy good meals.
We need to spread the word so that more families, parents and children know about this program and can find a site in their community. I encourage parents and sponsoring organizations to work with their schools to send Summer Food Service Program flyers and other outreach materials home with students before the end of school. Our Website, www.summerfood.usda.gov includes templates for creating these materials.
SFSP is vitally important to the millions of kids who eat school lunch and school breakfast during the school year but have no nutritious alterative in the summer. Only three million of the 22 million students who receive free or reduced price meals in the National School Lunch Program participate in a summer feeding program either through SFSP or through their school.
Summertime should not be a hungry time for these kids. SFSP fills that gap. Healthy food gives kids energy so they can enjoy all the summertime fun, but also maintains their nutrition so they feel well and do well once they’re back in school.
At USDA, we’re committed to ensuring that all students have access to “food that’s in while school is out.” We are here to help parents and communities make that a reality this summer.