On June 9th, the USDA Food and Nutrition Service kicked off the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) — “Food That’s In When School Is Out”, in Atlanta by visiting the Marietta Community Center in Marietta, Georgia as part of USDA’s first ever National SFSP Celebration Week. The Center provided free meals and a nutrition class on the new USDA MyPlate to 50 wonderful children, as feeding kids during the summer can pose a challenge to some parents when school meals are no longer available.
Although the SFSP program is completely dedicate to helping kids during the summer, when they are most vulnerable to experiencing hunger because school is out, our participation rate on this program is only 17%, but USDA is doing everything it can to get more meals to children during the summer months. We need to be sure that every child who should be receiving a summer meal gets one because no child should ever be going hungry. Although our National School Lunch Program is serving more than 21 million children during the school year, we are only serving 3 million children through SFSP, so clearly there is still a long way to go in reaching all the children who are eligible for this program, and we need everyone’s help to pitch in.
SFSP will endure throughout the summer in local neighborhoods across the nation. USDA is partnering with State Agencies who administer the SFSP and with local organizations to ensure that children are fed in the summer months when school is out.
The children at our SFSP kickoff had a great time meeting new friends, learning about nutrition, and getting a nutritious meal. Summer sites like the one in Marietta help kids get out of their homes and into community parks and recreation centers where they can engage in physical and educational activities, meet new friends, and eat a healthy meal.
On the day I visited, Georgia’s Bright from the Start Department of Early Care and Learning Nutritionist Monica Fink taught the kids about healthy food choices by showing how to make good food choices according to the newly released USDA MyPlate food guide. They learned that half of your plate should consist of fruits and vegetables, and that the remaining quarters should be protein and grains, with an accompanying side of dairy.
After their class, I gave out meals to the children, and so did Food and Nutrition Service Southeast Regional Administrator Don Arnette, Marietta Mayor Steve Tumlin, and Georgia’s Bright from the Start Commissioner Bobby Cagle. Lunch was a turkey and cheese sandwich, applesauce, fruit juice, and milk. Don and I also gave them USDA Summer Food Service cinch back packs and frisbees to the delight of the children.
Many parents would love to know of a safe place where their children can go in the summer to get a free nutritious meal. But they may not know about the SFSP or know where to find a site close to them. To help get that word out, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack launched the National Summer Food Service Program Week on Monday, June 6. Our Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Under Secretary Kevin Concannon also spoke to numerous media outlets about the SFSP on a media conference call.
It’s important that parents know where summer sites in their neighborhoods are located so that they can also get these healthy, free meals to their children. To find out the closest SFSP site near you where you can get your kids to join the fun, parents and guardians can either call their state agency or the National Hunger Hotline at 1-866-3-Hungry or 1-877-8-HAMBRE. It’s a free call, available in both English and Spanish, and is available from Monday to Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and Saturdays 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Eastern Time.
Each summer, millions of families struggle to provide their children with nutritious meals when schools close and kids no longer receive school meals. Thanks to the USDA partnership with State Agencies and Organizations that volunteer to sponsor and host Summer Food Service Program sites, parents have a safe place for their children to go this summer to receive a free meal.