Meals from Summer Food Service Program.

When school lets out, many children need a place to get their meals from. Students all over the nation rely on the School Breakfast and National School Lunch Programs and these services do not operate during the summer months. So this is where the Summer Food Service Program can help. As when the school year ends thousands of children and teenagers lose access to free and low-cost school lunches and breakfasts.

Almost 30 million children eat school breakfast or lunch every day during the year. Of this number, about one half receive their meals either for free or at a reduced price due to low household income, job losses, or some type of hardship. The Summer Food Service Program provides free meals to children from these low income families during their school vacations and breaks.

Studies show that lack of healthy meals and overall nutrition during the summer months can impact a student’s ability to learn and retain information during the school year, and it can even set up a cycle for poor performance at the start of the year. Other issues that can arise from lack of nutritious food include children can become susceptible to illness and other medical conditions. The federal government USDA Summer Food Service Program, or SFSP, will help ensure children of all ages have access to the food they need during the summer.

Families and children losing access to school meals is plainly evident at many soup kitchens and food pantries. These centers will almost always see increased participation and requests among children once the school year lets out. To try to deal with and address the increased summertime need and demands for assistance, food banks will recruits and partner with other centers such as churches, soup kitchens and food pantries to distribute Summer Meals to children at their sites. The various non-profit food banks assist participating programs with community outreach and activities to promote participation. They will also facilitate implementation of the various services.

The SFSP program will provide free meals to children over the summer. Depending on your county and city, the free food and meals are distributed at locations region wide, including parks, schools, pools, community centers, some churches and possibly even libraries. Nutritious breakfasts, lunches, suppers, and snacks may be provided. Many cities and towns also try to increase awareness of the Summer Meals by partnering with non-profit agencies and organizations like the Salvation Army.




National and regional food banks supply information about the SFSP programs. They may have the locations of SFSP distribution sites and centers, and can help guide families to local networks of regional and national food assistance programs, such as SNAP or WIC.

The centers that participate in the summer meal program feed children at meal service sites. They are located in a variety of local and convenient settings, including playgrounds, schools, recreation centers, parks, churches, community centers, Indian reservations, day camps, migrant centers, residential summer camps, or housing projects. The sites may prepare their own meals, contract for them with a local food service management company, or directly purchase meals through an agreement with an area school.

Other benefits of the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP)

A key objective is to provide an opportunity to continue a student’s/child's social, educational and physical development while providing students of all ages free or discounted nutritious meals. This is a federal government funded program that is operated nationally by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and administered at the State level, and it helps lower income children return to school ready to learn.

SFSP was created to ensure that teenagers and children in low-income areas continue to receive nutritious snacks and meals during long school vacations, when they do not have access to school lunch or breakfast. Qualifications normally include the following.

  • When at summer or day camps, only the children who are normally eligible for free and reduced-price meals may receive free food or meals from SFSP.
  • Applying children need to be 18 years of age or younger, they need to stop by an approved distribution site or go to an eligible enrolled site.
  • Some exceptions can be made for low income teenagers or people over age 18. If they disabilities they may also receive free meals. There is no risk into inquiring into the program as maybe you would fit into the exception category.

To get information on the USDA Summer Food Service Program, including locating meal sites and distribution centers in your community, dial the National Hunger Hotline at 1-866-3-HUNGRY. Customer service representatives can provide information on the program, how to apply, and where people can find pantries and meal sites in your region.




By Jon McNamara

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