How do summer meals play a role in making sure kids of all backgrounds get fed during the summer?

How do summer meals play a role in making sure kids of all backgrounds get fed during the summer?

This is a guest blog post by Morgan Gurwell, Nebraska Appleseed’s Youth Ambassador.

SNAPThe last day of school doesn’t have to mean the last day of community meal service for kids in Nebraska. The Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) invites kids ages 1-18 to share free meals at schools, nonprofits, libraries, and other locations around the state. This program can be a lifeline for families hit hard by COVID-19 and the economic impacts of the pandemic. Programs like the SFSP that meet the challenges of food insecurity are important in addressing inequities brought further to light by the pandemic as well. Let’s take a look at the SFSP through an equity lens to explore how to best get food to the communities that need it most:

Food insecurity is an equity issue that largely stems from systemic racism and historical discrimination in government policy around housing, the workplace, racial segregation in schools, and unequal access to healthcare. This became more evident during the pandemic as Hispanic or Latino Americans and Black Americans were twice as likely to be food insecure compared to white Americans. Feeding America projects that economic recovery in Black communities will take longer than in white communities, estimating that food insecurity will only decrease by 0.3% in 2021 compared to 2020. With daunting predictions like this, anti-hunger programs like SFSP are critical in communities where racial inequity perpetuates food insecurity.

Despite its importance, for every seven students eating meals during the school year in Nebraska, only one student ate meals during the summer. Luckily, the USDA’s COVID-19 emergency response lightened restrictions and made serving summer meals easier last year and this year. They issued waivers that moved SFSP out of school buildings and allowed service through pickups, delivery, bus route drop-offs, and walk-up distributions. Another waiver allowed districts to serve SFSP even if they didn’t have 50% of students who qualified for free or reduced-price lunches or 50% poverty in the area based on Census data. This brought 134 Nebraska districts to participate in 2020 compared to 83 the previous year and resulted in a 329% increase in meals served summer of 2020 vs 2019 in our state. 

Actions like these that increase access for all communities are essential in addressing racial disparities. SFSP plays a critical role in the growth and development of children who lack food access at home and get most of their nutrition from school meals. In fact, recent research shows that schools are where American kids eat the healthiest and are one of few places where food consumption is equitable by income, race/ethnicity, and education. By providing nutritious, culturally appropriate, and appealing meals, SFSP can fill stomachs while also providing good nutrition and the opportunity to try foods that students might not otherwise have access to. 

Summer Food Sponsors Can Add to Equitable Distribution of Food

When making sure that kids of all backgrounds get fed, it’s important to acknowledge potential barriers that could prevent them from attending an SFSP site. These barriers can be things like: 

  • Transportation
  • Language
  • Mealtimes
  • Comfortability with staff
  • Types of food served 

Summer Food Sponsors can play a major role in addressing these barriers. To reduce these barriers, Sponsors can reference Nebraska Appleseed’s Summer Best Practices Toolkit. It includes suggestions such as:

  • Making locations accessible by public transportation
  • Displaying information in multiple languages
  • Serving culturally diverse foods
  • Asking kids and families what they want to eat and having taste tests
  • Hosting fun activities
  • Allowing for more flexible pick up times for remote service

Download the toolkit

Ultimately, the most important thing is making sure that families from diverse backgrounds feel welcomed and supported when attending the sites. This is accomplished by building trusting relationships between staff and families and seeking feedback from the community to create the most efficient and inclusive environment that will keep all families coming back during the summer. 

If you, or someone you know, have children that could benefit from free meals served at SFSP sites around Nebraska (or other parts of the country), you can find a location near you with this map or by texting “FOOD” or “COMIDA” to 877-877. Learn more here (español).

Questions? Contact Economic Justice Program Manager, Eric Savaiano at esavaiano@neappleseed.org.

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