Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Policy Point Wednesday - Summer Lunch Program

Many families in the US suffer during the summer because they lose the safety net of free and reduced school meals.  They may not be aware that the USDA has a somewhat simpler program to bridge the summer months.  The Summer Food Service Program is provided in areas where 50% or more children living in the area qualify for free and reduced lunch, and may be housed at any location where children gather, such as a park, church, migrant camp, or school.  It eliminates paperwork by providing free lunches to all children under age 18.  (Admission-based programs may also recieve reimbursement for meals, but only for the children who qualify.) 

This program can provide up to two full meals in a day, of the site's choosing: e.g. breakfast and lunch, lunch and snack, breakfast and dinner (under the USDA guidelines, a program cannot serve lunch and dinner.)  All meals served through the Summer Food Service Program must meet USDA nutritional guidelines and must include: 1 serving of milk, 2 servings of fruits and/or vegetables, 1 serving of grains, and 1 serving of protein. 

Unfortunately, the Summer Food Service Program isn't reaching as many children as it should.  15 million children depend on free and reduced-price meals at school, but only 2 million receive the free meals provided by the summer program.  The USDA states that "the primary reason for the limited access to the program is that there are not enough feeding sites." states "Passionate community and faith leaders ensure there are meal sites in parks, schools, camps, places of faith and other locations nationwide that provide educational and nutritional meals to children to foster healthier lifestyles. However, the need is great and we need your help!"

You don't need to be a school or a municipality to host a summer lunch site - there are resources available to anyone who wants to start a program - besides the USDA and individual State agencies, the ERS offers a map where you can check if your area is eligible for a site.  The Food Resource and Action Center (FRAC) offers a free sample menu, and Second Harvest Heartland provides a pdf Summer Food Service Program toolkit.

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