As a public affairs specialist, promoting and publishing information about federal nutrition assistance programs to partners, media and the public is a key part of the job. But I don’t often get to see the real day-to-day operation of these programs. I have attended summer program kick-off events and visited other program sites for special events. But, I recently got another perspective. I accepted an offer from our regional Special Nutrition Programs branch to participate in a Summer Food Service Program review.
This cross-training experience provided a first-hand look at how the program works from the inside. I learned how our regional staff and state partners monitor sponsors and sites to make sure they are in compliance with rules and regulations to ensure program integrity and healthy summer meals for kids. Regional Food and Nutrition Service staff is responsible for program oversight and must conduct reviews of new private, non-profit sponsors and sites, often alongside the state agency. At last count, there were 17 of these new sponsors approved in Texas, with 61 new sites.
On the morning of June 26, I drove to a new sponsor’s address to meet up with a coworker and state reviewer. The director of a private, non-profit agency serving local children invited us into her home. We sat down at her dining room table to chat about the plans for the day, and calmed her anxiety about the review. She had received advance notice that we were coming and the documentation she would need to provide. I learned that sponsors must keep detailed records about everything they do to serve meals to children during the summer. It’s especially important for new sponsors to start off on the right foot.
We worked methodically through the checklist on the federal review form for sponsors. Records reviewed included: number and types of feeding sites in operation, documentation of food and administration costs, training of staff, food ordering, meal counts, health inspections, statements of non-discrimination and public notices about the program.
At 10:45 a.m., we drove to one of the sponsor’s three feeding sites to monitor the lunch service. At the church site, we observed the time of the meal service, meal delivery conditions, meal components, and the number of meals served. The reviewers interviewed the site coordinator about her processes and provided guidance on areas needing improvement. After completing the reviews of the site operation and the sponsor’s records, the reviewers provided the sponsor with recommendations for a successful program.
I learned a lot that one day in the field. FNS program specialists and the state agency work very hard to ensure program integrity in the Summer Food Service Program. Sponsors must provide safe and healthy meals, have good organizational and management skills, and keep diligent records to receive reimbursement for meals served. Hard work and a big heart are both required to feed hungry children in the summertime.