Low on Funds? Your City Can Still Provide Nutritional Meals to Children Outside School.

Working with NLC through the CHAMPS initiative, a cohort of small cities in Alabama is showing the rest of the country how they are successfully increasing access to out-of-school time meals for children.

Cities across the country, large and small, face the same challenge with many of their low-income children losing access to nutritious meals when the school day ends and when school lets out for the summer. Some city officials believe they do not have enough resources locally to address child hunger during these times.

However, all cities have the opportunity to bring federal funding into their communities to provide healthy meals to children year-round by implementing and expanding participation in afterschool and summer nutrition programs. Local afterschool and summer programs that are operated by city agencies directly or through community partners can receive direct reimbursements for meals served through these federal programs.

NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families (YEF Institute) is working with 31 cities this year in Alabama, California and Kansas — most of which have populations under 50,000 — to ensure that children have healthy meals when they are not in school. Over the past four years, NLC has partnered with the Food Research Action Center (FRAC) to provide funding and technical assistance to an additional 41 cities through an initiative supported by the Walmart Foundation known as CHAMPS (Cities Combatting Hunger through Afterschool and Summer Meal Programs).

The CHAMPS initiative helps cities launch new meal sites, engage city leaders as champions of out-of-school time meals, and develop marketing materials to promote awareness about the meal programs. CHAMPS cities include large cities with strong programs and resources to help support their efforts as well as many small cities with fewer options. However, this year’s focus on Alabama, California and Kansas demonstrates that smaller cities can also make a big impact on ending child hunger in their communities.

Last month, the YEF Institute, FRAC and the Alabama Food Bank Association brought the 12 Alabama CHAMPS cities — 10 of which are small cities — together in Tuskegee, Alabama, to share how they are working to increase access to out-of-school time meals by recruiting new meal sites and partners as well as helping spread the word throughout the community about the meal programs.

CHAMPS cities are expanding participation in both summer and afterschool meal programs by launching the meal programs for the first time or expanding existing programs. The cities are adding new sites and supporting mobile efforts that expand the reach of programs to children outside of walking distance of meal sites.

In some small cities, parks and recreation departments are leading efforts to bring afterschool meals to city parks and community center programs. In other cities, local elected officials are serving as champions to promote the programs and draw in more children to participate. A few examples from Alabama:

  • The city of Anniston plans to more than double their summer meal participation this year by adding meals to community centers, including the Carver Community Center, which offers a computer lab, an adjacent library and space for indoor and outdoor activities to keep kids healthy and fit when they are not in school.
  • The city of Russellville has been able to provide afterschool meals for the first time to children participating in activities at city community centers. The centers offer afterschool tutoring and basketball camps, and the city has already seen an increase in participation as a result of the meals.
  • The rural city of Tuskegee is exploring providing bus transportation home from afterschool meal programs, which will allow more children the opportunity to participate.
  • In Florence, the city is recruiting sites to serve summer meals and promoting meal programs through the mayor’s newsletter, which reaches around 7,000 residents every week.
  • Hobson City Mayor Alberta McCrory is leading the city’s effort to increase community awareness and participation and to expand the reach of both meal programs. In addition to recruiting new sites to reach more children, the mayor is looking forward to coupling meals with activities like the city’s gardening, bicycling and summer reading programs. Mayor McCrory is taking an active role in program enhancement and promotion; she plans to record PSAs and will share updates and information about summer meals through the local television station.

In providing technical assistance to CHAMPS cities, NLC’s YEF Institute and FRAC are identifying opportunities for cities to learn from each other. City leaders, parks and recreation directors, and school child nutrition service directors from cities of all sizes can share ideas about how to best boost capacity and reach more children through replicable models.

At the Tuskegee convening, cities demonstrated the value of sharing strategies. Alabama cities shared the different ways they’ve found success in reaching children with information that goes beyond just sending flyers home with students, such as printing messages on the back of report cards, creating robo-call messages delivered to parents and families, and printing promotional stickers kids can wear home to better ensure parents see the information about where to find meal sites.

Alabama CHAMPS cities are demonstrating that increased collaboration, capacity and city engagement can ensure that more children have access to healthy meals year-round in every state and city across the country — no matter the size.

For more information, read the NLC issue brief highlighting 10 specific steps city leaders can take to support summer and afterschool meals, or contact Dawn Schluckebier at schluckebier@nlc.org.

Featured image from Getty Images.

About the author: Dawn Schluckebier is the principal associate for family economic success in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. Follow Dawn on Twitter @TheSchluck.