Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Summer Food Services Program Provides Meals for Low-Income Students While School’s Out

Throughout the nation, roughly 29 million children rely on free or reduced-cost school lunches funded through the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) during the school year. During the summer months, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) offers the Summer Food Services Program (SFSP) to continue to provide meals to help bridge the gap.

Although SFSP has been in operation since 1968, the program is heavily underutilized. According to the Food Research and Action Center, only one in seven children who rely on the NSLP for lunches during the school year received food through SFSP in the summer of 2011.

Most states operate SFSP through their education agencies. At a local level, SFSP is operated by approved sponsors, including local government agencies, school districts, camps, or private nonprofit organizations. The sponsors provide free meals to children at a central site and are reimbursed by the USDA through state agencies for meals served.

There are three designations for SFSP sites:

  • Open – These sites are operated in low-income areas where at least half of the children come from families with incomes at or below 185% of the federal poverty level, making them eligible for free and reduced-cost school meals. Meals are served free to any child. 
  • Enrollment – Enrollment sites provide free meals to children enrolled in an activity program at the site. At least half of the children enrolled at the site must eligible for free and reduced-cost meals. 
  • Camp – These sites receive payments only for meals served to children who are eligible for free and reduced-price meals. 

Because of the program’s underuse and the devastating effects of child hunger, community outreach and collaboration are critical. A good example is Baltimore County Public Schools, which worked with the local Parks and Recreation Department, advocacy groups, Title I school coordinators, school system public information coordinators, and other community organizations to form a Summer Outreach Committee. The committee launched a media campaign focusing on radio, television, and print communications, distributing flyers throughout the community, and establishing a Summer Program hotline for potential sites and participants. For more examples of best practices in implementing SFSP, click here. For community outreach ideas and toolkits, click here.

Do you want your community to take advantage of SFSP? Check out this document to learn more about your state’s application deadline. Please note that application deadlines for sponsorship vary from state to state, ranging from April to June deadlines. For a list of state agencies operating SFSP, click here.

To check out our blog post on improving access to NSLP, click here.

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