The Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) is a critical resource for filling the nutrition gap that exists for many low-income children who rely on free or reduced-price meals during the school year. The need to expand the reach of the Summer Nutrition Programs is more important than ever as communities continue to respond to COVID-19’s impacts on food security, education and the economy.
To support continued meal access during COVID-19, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has extended key nationwide waivers which allow for meals to be served safely during the pandemic, including allowing meals to be taken home, for parents or guardians to pick up meals for their children, and for multiple days’ worth of meals to be distributed at one time. In addition, USDA waived the requirement that summer and afterschool meal sites must be located in an area in which at least half of the children are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals. This waiver ensured that all families in need were able to access meals, regardless of the community in which they lived.
These waivers have allowed park and recreation professionals across the country to adapt and adjust operations to provide meals to children in a variety of ways. As we look ahead to this summer, here are some things to consider to ensure more children have access to summer meals this year.
- Maximize the available waivers. It is unclear at this time what summer will look like in many communities. Park and recreation agencies that serve meals — or are interested in starting meal service — should connect with their state child nutrition agency to determine if they can make additional changes to their meal service operations to support greater access to nutritious meals.
- Let parents and guardians know how they can find meal sites in their community. Lack of awareness remains a big barrier to participation. Sharing information on websites, social media and across networks is a great way to spread the word about summer meals. USDA’s Meals for Kids Map lists available meal sites and hours of operation.
- Connect with anti-hunger partners. Anti-hunger organizations and the administering child nutrition agency in your state are great resources for getting started with serving meals. They can connect you to meal providers in your area already serving meals and help you work out the best way to incorporate meals. They can also help you increase program awareness or reduce any barriers to participation. Find your anti-hunger organization here and state agency here.
- Explore new partnerships. When thinking about new partners to collaborate with, consider reaching out to libraries, schools, health departments, city agencies, museums, parks, and other similar groups in your community. Many of these groups are invested in children’s health and increasing access to summer programs. They can help with additional activities, promote meal service, and offer additional support as needed during COVID-19.
Everyone has a role to play in connecting children to nutritious, healthy meals all summer long. The Food Research & Action Center (FRAC) has resources to help you learn more about the Summer Nutrition Programs and best practices for implementing them.
Clarissa Hayes is a senior policy analyst at the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC) and works to expand access to summer and afterschool meals.