Bridging the Summer Nutrition Gap with the Summer Feeding Program
May 1, 2014
Raymond Magee, Office of Chief Communications Officer, Food and Nutrition Consumer Services, USDA
Every summer millions of children go hungry in America. During the school year 21 million children receive free and reduced-price meals through the school lunch and school breakfast program but when school ends and summer begins only 3 ½ million children participate in the summer feeding program. The summer feeding program was established to bridge the nutritional gap between May and August for eligible low-income children.
The Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) is a federally funded program administered by State Agencies to help fill the summer meal gap for low-income children by reimbursing organizations that serve meals at feeding sites for children aged 18 and under. Schools, churches, community centers, playgrounds, libraries, parks, and camps can provide summer meals in neighborhoods with high percentages of low-income families, making a positive impact on the lives of children in need. These summer food sites are safe and familiar locations where children naturally congregate during the summer.
There are numerous ways to engage in the program. The first is to become a new sponsor or site. Sponsors are trained by state agencies, locate and train staff for eligible sites, monitor sites and prepare reimbursement claims. Sponsors handle the administrative side of the program while sites deal more directly with feeding the children. Sites also engage children through activities as a way to increase participation and give them something fun to do during the day. Examples of site activities can be found on the FNS Best Practices Page.
Another way to engage is to be an advocate for the program. Pass out the summer flyer (English & Spanish) and display in public areas such as community centers or schools. Promote using social media such as Twitter or Facebook. Connect to local radio stations to play public service announcements for the program.
Volunteers are always needed and welcomed at meal sites. If your organization has individuals or knows of an organization that could provide volunteers for the program have them contact your respective state agency. Your organization can also partner with other local groups who are engaged with the program in an effort to maximize all available community resources. You can form a coalition of businesses or like-minded interest groups in an effort to increase awareness during the summer months.
You can find numerous resources on the FNS website: www.summerfood.usda.gov. Learn how to advertise your sites, download outreach materials, discover our multimedia products and training videos, and recruit volunteers. Also check out the comprehensive summer meals toolkit. It can be used as a guidebook to help successfully navigate the summer feeding program. Feeding hungry kids during the summer requires the support of a very diverse group of stakeholders, organizations such as yours, so reach out to your state agency today and get involved.