Cities Can Use Summer Meals Program to Close Nutrition Gap When School is Out

Febuary 13, 2012

by Elbert Garcia

Hunger and poor nutrition are among the biggest obstacles to student success, stunting not only children's educational development, but also making them more likely to miss school days due to sickness and other health issues.

One of the many ways that city leaders can fight hunger, especially among children, is through the federal Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). In place in some form or another since 1968, the program provides funding to local governments, nonprofit organizations and other community institutions to feed low-income children ages 18 and under when school is not in session.

NLC's Institute for Youth, Education and Families, aided by a grant from the ConAgra Foods Foundation, is working with the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) to help city leaders connect their residents with this and other vital federal nutrition programs.

Federal funding, administered by states, allows many SFSP sites to free up resources to offer enrichment and recreational activities, providing children with a safe space to learn over the summer. In an increasingly difficult economic climate, the summer meals also allow parents to save a little bit more on weekly groceries - savings that can be used for bills and other family necessities.

Despite its many benefits, the program is woefully underutilized. According to FRAC, nearly 21 million children receive free or reduced-price meals during the school year through the federal School Breakfast and National School Lunch Programs. However, only one out of seven of these children continue to receive these meals during the summer months. By increasing the number of summer program providers and students taking advantage of SFSP, cities can help fill the nutrition gap among children who might otherwise go hungry. Municipal leaders are in a particularly strong position to attract more federal funding to their communities by expanding utilization of SFSP and other federal nutrition benefits.

With the state application deadlines beginning in March, federal officials are hosting a series of webinars with national and state partners throughout the month of February to recruit new sponsors and volunteers. For a list of upcoming webinar dates, visit the USDA's SFSP webinar page at http://www.summerfood.usda.gov/webinar.htm. For a list of state food nutrition contacts, visit http://www.fns.usda.gov/cnd/Summer/deadlines.pdf.

Families can also call the National Hunger Hotline at 1-866-3-HUNGRY or 1-877-8-HAMBRE to locate the nearest SFSP site in their area. Organizations looking to become a sponsor or explore volunteer opportunities are encouraged to visit the USDA's Food Service Program website at http://www.summerfood.usda.gov.