By Jamie Nash
NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education and Families (YEF Institute) invites cities to apply for grant awards of up to $50,000 to raise awareness of and increase participation in the federal Afterschool and Summer Meal Programs. Through the Cities Combating Hunger through Afterschool and Summer Meals (CHAMPS) initiative, mayors and other city officials can ensure that children in their communities have access to nutritious meals by promoting and supporting these vital federal nutrition programs.
With a $1.5 million grant from the Walmart Foundation, and in partnership with the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), NLC will provide grant funding and in-depth technical assistance and training to 6 to 8 cities.
Since 2012, NLC has provided grants and technical assistance to 26 cities to help expand participation in these nutrition programs. Over the last two years, NLC has reached over 29,000 children with nutritious meals through the grants provided to selected cities as part of the CHAMPS project.
City Leadership Makes a Difference
Through the CHAMPS initiative, cities have been able to increase the visibility of the meal programs through increased partnerships with elected officials and by developing comprehensive marketing campaigns to increase awareness of the programs.
City leaders have an important role to play in supporting these programs and can help to build strong partnerships with a range of stakeholders to implement meal programs that maximize and connect existing local resources. City leaders can take steps to promote meal programs in several ways, including: using city leaders’ high visibility to promote programs, sponsoring a meal program, incorporating child nutrition into a broader city-wide initiative or establishing a local out-of-school time meals workgroup.
For example, in Columbus, Ohio - a recent CHAMPS grantee - the Recreation and Parks Department staff make regular presentations to City Council members to update them on the successes and challenges associated with the meal programs. These updates put the issue of child hunger on the city agenda and have generated the support needed to expand the number of summer meal sites from 150 in 2013 to over 200 this year.
The city also collaborated with their local anti-hunger group, the Children’s Hunger Alliance, to develop a successful marketing campaign for both their afterschool meal program, “SELF” (Students Eating, Learning and Having Fun) and for their summer meal program, “Make Summer Count.” Marketing efforts included creating several TV spots and PSAs, print ads in major Columbus newspapers, radio commercials and advertising on social networks.
The Time to Act is Now
This grant opportunity comes at a critical time for city leaders to ensure that children in their communities have access to healthy meals. Last year, devastating cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) decreased monthly food budgets for many families across the country.
Currently, over 21 million children receive free and reduced-price meals through the School Breakfast Program (SBP) and National School Lunch Programs (NSLP). But summer meals currently only reach about 15 percent of the children eligible for the NSLP nationally, and many of these low-income children that rely on these meals during the school year go hungry during the summer months and after school hours.
The USDA provides federally funded meals through the afterschool and summer meal programs, including the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and the NSLP Seamless Summer Option, to help fill this gap. Because this funding is guaranteed year to year as part of a federal entitlement program, the organizations operating these programs are fully reimbursed for the cost of the meals.
How to Apply
Cities eligible to apply for these grant funds include those that have a strong commitment to launching or expanding local efforts to provide afterschool and summer meals utilizing the federal programs resulting in year-round feeding opportunities for children.
Based on the proposals submitted, up to 8 cities will be selected through a Request for Proposals (RFP) process to receive grant funding along with customized technical assistance, access to best practices and national experts and opportunities for peer learning and exchange as they develop strategic approaches for increasing utilization of the Afterschool and Summer Meal Programs. The grant period will run from September 2014 to December 2015.