School’s out: Organizations across the state serve meals to kids in need through federal program
Many low-income children depend on school breakfasts and lunches to support their nutrition. However, when school gets out in May, the Summer Food Service Program, or SFSP, provides an alternative solution.
SFSP is a U.S. Department of Agriculture-funded meal service for children up to 18 years old. Missouri is home to hundreds of SFSP food sites, which are often in schools, churches and local community centers.
Some locations have begun distributing the meals for the summer. Others are getting ready to launch the program in the coming weeks.
At an allotted time, children can arrive, pick up a meal and eat it there. Regulations require the child eat the meal in its entirety on site with the exception of taking home a shelf-stable snack.
The USDA reimburses organizations for individual meals at around $3 for breakfast and $5 for lunch or dinner. It is up to the sponsor to stay on budget while still serving nutritious food.
Last year, around 33,000 meals were handed out in Missouri daily, according to preliminary data.
The Adair County YMCA in Kirksville is the sponsor of 24 food sites in the northeast part of the state. The nonprofit joined the program in 2019 when it saw a need in the region.
“We had different schools that would ask us. We would come serve there in different areas and communities and we really try not to say no,” said Misti Hollenbeck-Harris, the director of membership and wellness.
The YMCA is currently making over a thousand meals a day to keep up with demand. A typical lunch includes a whole grain, a fruit, a vegetable, a protein and a milk.
For fresh produce, the YMCA heads to Hyvee and Aldi to ensure quality. “We do price compare quite a bit," Hollenbeck-Harris said. "We buy everything wholesale."
Ozarks Food Harvest has 18 sites in 10 counties. The Feeding America food bank distributes meals across southwest Missouri.
Jordan Browning, the public information officer for Ozarks Food Harvest, said that 1 in 5 kids in southwest Missouri are food insecure.
“So what happens now is that children enter the summer break, and then all of a sudden, they have three months that they have no dedicated meals,” said Browning. “And suddenly, they lose that breakfast, they lose that lunch and then their family is likely facing hunger already.”
Access to food anywhere can be a challenge. However, rural areas can lack the ability to provide meals or may be experiencing a food desert. That’s why when choosing a site, Ozarks Food Harvest makes rural communities a priority.
“We’re really putting an investment in the future of that community to make sure that these kids are getting on the right track because they have those resources in place,” Browning said.
The food bank also looks for local organizations that are already established in the area. If people are coming to the site for other reasons, it’s easier for children to receive meals.
Ozarks Food Harvest hopes to expand its sites to reach more families in southwest Missouri.