This past Tuesday was a beautiful day in Saint Paul and Minneapolis, Minnesota. On this day I, along with a few other NRPA staff, had the pleasure of visiting park and recreation agencies in the Twin Cities that are providing free meals and snacks to children through the USDA Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). We saw firsthand how special these programs are for the children and the park and recreation professionals involved. Not only that we were able to witness what happens when you demonstrate the impact these programs have to elected officials too!
Joining us on this visit were special guests Congressman Keith Ellison and representatives from Senator Al Franken and Senator Amy Klobuchar’s offices.
Our first stop was Dayton’s Bluff Recreation Center.
Toni Smith the Programming Supervisor for Saint Paul Parks and Recreation and Linda Flynn, the Service Area Coordinator provided us and our friends from the offices of Senator Franken and Senator Klobuchar’s offices, a tour of the Recreation Center and highlighted the lunch that was being served through the USDA Summer Food Service Program. There we met a fun group of kids that were enjoying their lunch.
Saint Paul Parks and Recreation has been serving summer meals for more than 25 years through a partnership with the Saint Paul Public Schools Nutrition Services.
With more than 80 percent of the youth who attend public school in the area qualifying for “free” or “reduced” lunches, all Saint Paul Recreation centers are now involved in the program to meet the high demand. It was powerful for us and the Senate staff to see and hear how summer meals and after school snacks have become an important component of the recreation services for youth and are sometimes the only regular meals these children are receiving. The team that runs the programs knows many of the kids by name and you can see the mutual trust that has been built over time; these kids know they have a safe place in the community.
Our next stop was at Farview Park and Recreation Center in North Minneapolis.
It was a busy day as usual with children doing what they should be doing on a summer’s day, enjoying the sunny weather. But what makes this so special is that you can tell these children have a real trust that this place is safe and that they get to enjoy healthy meals or snacks when they are there.
Farview is one of 35 sites in Minneapolis that, in partnership with the Minneapolis Public Schools, serve summer meals to school-aged children. In the summer of 2013 alone, nearly 125,000 meals and snacks were provided. Jayne Miller, CPRP, Superintendent of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, welcomed Congressman Keith Ellison and the Senate office representatives to the park to see the facility and programs. The kids got to interact with the Congressman and show off the SFSP in action.
Congressman Ellison’s kids grew up playing sports at the very park, and he shared some of his fond memories and experiences that he and his family had in the park system. He also shared his appreciation for Jayne and what she and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board have accomplished since she started as the Superintendent, four years earlier.
Looking at the programs and relationships here, it is a bright example of what these types of partnerships in communities can provide for the constituents they serve.
You never know what personal stories your own representatives may have of your local park and recreation systems. They may be a champion of your issues and ready and willing to be an ally, if you make or further those connections. With the reauthorization of the legislation that funds the SFSP and other food programs due in 2015, it is a critical time to build those relationships with your Congressional leaders and highlight to them the great work you are doing in your community.
We encourage NRPA members that run Summer Food Service Programs to host your Senator or Representative next summer or during the school year if you participate in after school meal and snack programs through the Child and Adult Care Food Program.
We’ve even created a step-by-step guide on how to host your Senator or Representative for a site visit of your summer or after school food programs. Additionally, the NRPA Public Policy team is always ready and willing to help with advocacy and congressional outreach on this or any other issue. Reach out to us!
How have you made connections with your elected officials over the years? Leave a comment below or tweet us your thoughts using #SummerMeals.
Sage Learn is NRPA's Government Affairs Manager.