On October 4, fellow USDA Food and Nutrition Service staffer Julie Mikkelson and I attended the Minnesota Vikings annual Taste of the NFL bash at Minneapolis’ Mall of America. This enormously popular charity event funds feeding efforts operated by Second Harvest Heartland, the Upper Midwest’s largest hunger-relief organization.
To show our appreciation for the phenomenal success these partners have had in increasing meals served to hungry children through USDA’s Summer Food Service Program, Julie and I presented Vikings owner Zygi Wilf and Second Harvest Heartland Executive Director Rob Zeaske with certificates from USDA Under Secretary Kevin Concannon.
This past summer was the third year of the partnership–which is also supported by the Target Corporation–to expand children’s participation in the program. The Vikings are the first National Football League team to step forward to help this important nutrition program reach more children. The Vikings Children’s Fund Lunch Program initiative, launched in summer 2008, has resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of feeding sites, summer meals sponsors, and healthy meals served to children. This summer’s preliminary participation figures show over 1.65 million meals served, compared with 1.15 million meals before the initiative—which greatly exceeded Second Harvest’s goals!
These incredible increases in meals served to children across the state are funded in part by proceeds from the Taste of the NFL event which involves chefs and restaurants from the Twin Cities area who donate their food and time to the cause. Joined by Vikings players who mingled with attendees, signed autographs and helped serve food, the chefs, restaurant owners, Second Harvest staff and volunteers entertained around 700 Vikings fans.
While I was amazed by the tasty food and the massive scale of the Mall of America, I was most impressed by the dedication and inspiring results of Second Harvest Heartland, Vikings, and volunteer staff. As a result of their efforts, USDA’s Summer Food Service Program will likely serve even more children next summer.