By Jamie Nash
Issuing a challenge to “tackle this hunger issue with all the energy, vigor and partnerships that we have,” U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service Administrator Audrey Rowe addressed a group of city leaders gathered in Nashville, Tenn. to share best practices for addressing childhood hunger through federal meal programs. “It is unconscionable to me that a child should go to sleep hungry,” said Rowe, a tireless advocate for vulnerable populations and youth during her keynote address at the cross-site meeting of representatives from 15 cities participating in a National League of Cities project to help cities implement a year-round food program for children in out-of-school time programs.
The cross-site meeting was part of NLC’s Cities Combating Hunger through Afterschool and Summer Meal Programs (CHAMPS) initiative, sponsored by NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education and Families in partnership with the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), with support from the Walmart Foundation. The meeting provided in-depth technical assistance and training to help each city develop and implement its plans to expand city and community-based afterschool and summer meal programs, leverage available federal funding to expand participation and build stronger relationships with stakeholders.
Many cities at the meeting discussed how they are tackling the challenge of child hunger with innovative solutions that incorporate federal meal reimbursements. One tactic a handful of cities are using to expand summer participation and reduce food waste is mobile meal programs. For example, Hagerstown, Md. has implemented “Meal Machine” mobile meals program for the Washington County Public Schools. Last summer they served over 7,000 meals at two locations, and they are currently expanding to two new mobile meal delivery sites to reach even more students. The Meal Machine can serve twice the amount of students each day than their two school open sites.
In addition to emphasizing the need for innovative solutions, Rowe also discussed the importance of developing marketing strategies, conducting targeted outreach and strengthening cross-sector partnerships so that the transition from the At-Risk Afterschool meal program to the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) is seamless. “While we have made great progress, there is still so much that needs to be done,” said Rowe. She highlighted several out-of-school meal program successes she saw on recent visits to schools, and stressed the need to improve the reach of these programs to even more kids in 2014. She emphasized the importance of building strong partnerships and involving a range of stakeholders to implement these programs. Mayors and other city leaders can be strong ambassadors and champions for summer feeding programs, and can help elevate program awareness, she noted.
“It was a privilege for the City of Houston staff to attend the National League of Cities’ CHAMPS cross-site meeting,” commented Jeff Jefferson, Division Manager for the City of Houston Parks and Recreation. “The content of the meeting was extremely valuable in outlining areas of significance about the Summer Food Service and After School Meals Programs.”
Since the CHAMPS meeting, the Houston team has organized several community stakeholder meetings to discuss innovative ways to improve enrollment numbers, while other cities have begun mailing out summer feeding program reminders and site information, organizing staff trainings, planning kick off events featuring local athletes and city leaders, building partnerships with libraries and churches to serve as site-sponsors and developing tasting events that focus on summer feeding program meal quality.
With summer meals currently only reaching about 15 percent of the eligible children nationally, this is an extremely important time of year for organizations and schools that implement school meal programs to transition from focusing on afterschool meal programs into planning their summer meal programs.
To learn more about how cities can implement summer and afterschool nutrition programs for children, register for NLC’s upcoming webinar:
For additional information, see FRAC’s summer nutrition program implementation timeline and guide and webinar, and the USDA Food and Nutrition Service’s Summer Meals Toolkit.
For more on the CHAMPS initiative, contact Jamie Nash at (202) 626-3160 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Participating CHAMPs cities include: Baltimore, Maryland; Columbus, Ohio; Gary, Indiana; Hagerstown, Maryland; Houston, Texas; Kansas City, Kansas; Louisville, Kentucky; Missoula, Montana; Providence, Rhode Island; Rochester, New York; Seattle, Washington; Tacoma, Washington; Tallahassee, Florida; Trotwood, Ohio; and Waco, Texas.