You might not think much about school lunches. Cafeteria meals are one of those mainstays of American life: you go to school, you get fed. But what happens when school is out? Do those daily meals magically appear for youth across the country?
Well, yes and no.
As you might suspect, there’s no magic involved when feeding young people who are hungry. It turns out the meals DO appear, but unfortunately they are harder to find, and there are fewer opportunities to be fed.
In numbers, there are approximately 50% fewer meal sites during the summer than there are public schools, and families have to find these sites — no more showing up to a school building cafeteria for a daily meal at the same time every day. Instead, nonprofits, private organizations, and public libraries begin serving meals as part of the USDA Summer Food Service Program, a marvelous resource that is spread across the country. The magic is in making sure families know about them.
How do I find these meals?
Luckily, there are many ways in which families in need find these resources in their communities. Here are the most common ways:
Schools often send youth home the last days of school with a flyer or postcard in their backpack with a list of free meal sites or a web site where parents can find them.
If you text FOOD to 877–877 you’ll receive information on meal sites in your area.
You can download Range, a free app that will show you the nearest sites, with information and directions to get there.
You can dial 2–1–1 on your phone to talk to someone who will tell you where to go, in addition to other vital services in your community.
There’s a crew of people and organizations — nonprofits, public libraries, and other community-based organizations — who know about free summer meals and are eager to send families to meal sites in their communities. Unfortunately, many, many families still don’t know where to go to find these meals during the summer months.
So what can you do?
You can tell people about all of the things I listed above. You can also:
- Download posters about Range and display them in community centers, coffee shops, wherever you see families.
- Hand a poster about Range to a doctor, a social worker, someone who is trusted and works with families who might be in need.
- If you’re an educator, send an email to a group of school leaders, teachers, nurses, or social workers who can tell families about free summer meals before school is out for the summer.
Use social media for good!
Get on Facebook, Twitter, wherever you hang out, and spread the word about #summermeals and the resources to find them, like #Rangeapp and texting FOOD to 877–877 and calling 2–1–1 for assistance.
It truly takes a village. Join in!
~Sarah Washburn, a member of the Caravan Studios team