In Minnesota, school is out for the summer. The break from studies can be refreshing and fun, but it can also be a cause for concern. The issue is hunger. During the school year, 375,000 kids in Minnesota get free or reduced-price lunches at school. When the summer months roll around, only 20% of those kids continue to have a daily meal provided by foodservice. The fear is that many kids are going hungry over the summer. Proper nutrition is vital for healthy growth, concentration and learning. Just because students take a break from their studies during the summer doesn’t mean they can afford to take a break from good nutrition.
Second Harvest Heartland, a hunger relief organization, has teamed up with the Minnesota Department of Education to facilitate the Summer Foodservice Program (SFSP). Their goal is to help as many children as possible have access to at least one nutritious meal per day during the summer months.
“Certainly, we don’t want children to miss meals. It can lead to long term health effects and certainly their ability to concentrate or just function as a happy child. We don’t want that to happen, and we want kids to have nutritious foods,” said Shaye Morris of the Second Harvest Northern Lakes Food Bank. Their website has a location finder where people can click on the map of Minnesota, enter their address, and find the nearest sites that offer free summer meals for kids.
There are SFSP sites all over the state ready to serve children 18 years and younger during the summer months. Three of these locations are in Hopkins. The Hopkins sites offer meals made from scratch using raw ingredients. The meals are free to children and cost $2 for adults. Albert Lea, another Minnesota community serving lunch during the summer, has 2 tent sites set up that are being run by the local Salvation Army and the school foodservice.
Minnesota isn’t the only state working hard to prevent hunger this summer. The USDA has Summer Food Service Programs all over the country. The programs are offered by a variety of sponsors including libraries, schools, family centers, park and recreation centers, faith-based organizations and more.
The USDA reimburses the sponsor for the number of meals served that meets their reimbursement criteria.
Besides serving delicious and nutritious food to kids, many of the SFSP sites provide an assortment of other activities including games, arts and crafts, sports, computer training, music and reading. Kids are well-fed and entertained in a safe environment. This is a relief to many working parents who can’t be with their kids all day during the summer and who worry about how to provide them with healthy meals during the break from school.
Supporters of Summer Food Service Programs point out the sense of community that the programs create. “Sitting down and eating whole, unprocessed foods as a unit--whether it be a family, neighborhood or class of students—promotes community engagement by providing daily opportunities for interpersonal dialogue, sharing thoughts, experiences and resources,” said Barb Mechura, director of school nutrition in Hopkins, MN.
To find a Summer Food Service Program in your area, call 1-866-3-HUNGRY (1-866-348-6479) or 1-877-8-HAMBRE (for Spanish speakers). Be ready with your zip code and a pen to write down the address of the nearest location. If there isn’t an SFSP site in your community, you can advocate getting one started by contacting your school principal, parent teacher organization, mayor’s office, or other elected officials. Together we can keep our kids happy, healthy and hunger-free this summer!