A special program of the USDA is making it possible for schools feeding kids in the summer months to provide healthy meals and snacks for proper development over vacation. The USDA’s Summer Food Service Program aims to fill the summer food gap for millions of .low-income children aged 2 to 18 who get free or reduced-price meals during the school year but are left without such assistance during the summer months.
As good nutrition is essential to both physical and mental growth, the Summer Food Service Program seeks to offer opportunities to continue “a child’s physical and social development while
nutritious meals during long vacation periods from school. It helps children return to school ready to learn,” according to the program’s website.
First created in 1968 as part of a larger pilot program, the Summer Food Service Program became its own entity in 1975, and it reached more than 2 million kids in 2012 through almost 39,000 sites. “This program allows operators such as the school system to continue to offer healthful meals throughout the entire year,” says Jodi Risse, MS, RD, LDN, supervisor of food and nutrition services for Anne Arundel County Public Schools in Maryland. “Hunger and access to healthful meals are high in the priority of community needs.”
While the USDA governs overall program requirements and dictates reimbursements and other details, much of the food, marketing, and other program specifics are determined at the local level. The program is run by approved local sponsors, which can include school districts and camps. Each site determines what food to serve and how to spread the word to its target population.
To reach more children in need, some summer foodservice programs are getting creative. Here are five programs in five states that are using innovative marketing tools, offering meals during nontraditional hours, and bringing food to children by truck or the all-familiar bright-yellow school bus to ensure all kids have access to healthful food all summer long.