FOOD ACCESS CHALLENGES RISE IN SUMMER
Most kids can’t wait until school is out for summer. But for Minnesota’s food-insecure children and teens, summer can be a time to dread. The subsidized breakfasts and lunches they get in school, and the out-of-school-time snacks and dinners provided in other locations, aren’t available when school is out.
The Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and administered by the Minnesota Department of Education, reimburses providers who serve healthy meals to children and teens in low-income areas at no charge during the months when school is not in session. HIP partners with MDE and sponsor organizations like Providers Choice that provide technical assistance, monitoring, outreach, and administrative support. Together we pursue innovative ways of closing the SFSP meal gap. (By our calculations, only 15 percent of available summer meals are being eaten. Only 3 million of 20.4 million meals are reaching kids. If there were all consumed, the reimbursement revenue to feeding sites would be $33 million.)
A NEW WAY TO ACCESS FOOD
Hunger Impact Partners used its data-focused skills and insights to empower Summer Eats Minnesota, a new mobile phone app that came online in summer 2017. Summer Eats Minnesota is an easy way to locate free and nutritious summer meals for kids up to age 18. Locate the nearest site, show up at the right time, and eat. No registration or prior sign-up necessary. The app even tells you what the site will be serving that day!
Summer Eats Minnesota guides kids and their caregivers to parks, recreation centers, community centers, schools, and other open sites. Kids shouldn’t miss meals when they’re not in school.
Kids don’t stop being hungry when the school year ends for the summer. Yet Minnesota ranks 23rd among the 50 states in feeding children in the summer. Its participation rate for summer feeding programs is only 15 percent. That amounts to 17 million missing meals and $33 million in federal reimbursement left on the table.
“When kids are hungry, it causes them not to focus as much,” says Tayven Smith, a 16-year-old North High student, explaining the impact of not providing enough summer meals.
There are federal programs (supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture) that provide funding to address the summer feeding dilemma. Summer Food Service Program helps children up to age 18 get free summer meals. Open sites operate in low-income areas where at least half the children come from families with incomes at or below 185 percent of the federal poverty level. There is also the Seamless Summer Option. Schools participating in the National School Lunch or School Breakfast Program are eligible to apply for the Seamless Summer Option, which supports free summer meals. So the funds are available to make sure kids don’t go hungry in the summer months.
Challenges and Solution
Summer Meal Programs in Minnesota have the potential to serve 20 million meals, but only 3 million are consumed. Nearly two-thirds of school kids eligible for free or reduced meals during the school year did not take part in the Summer Meals program.
In 2017, Hunger Impact Partners, in partnership with the Minnesota Department of Education and the Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS), developed a technology solution that empowered kids and their parents to more easily find summer meals near them: a mobile phone app called Summer Eats Minnesota. Powered by GPS and available free through the Apple App and Google Play Store, the app shows locations of summer food sites, their menus and days and hours of operation. Kids 18 and under can show up without prior signup for free meals at open site locations that include schools, park and recreation centers, community centers and libraries.
“I used the Summer Eats Minnesota app to find a location that was serving meals for my kids,” said Rob Warland, a south Minneapolis parent of three young children. “The staff was welcoming and helpful. The meal was nutritious—a good balance of what my kids like to eat. It was at a park so we stayed and played.”
Our partners recognize the importance of the new app as well.
“Hunger does not take a vacation in the summer; knowing where to find a healthy meal is so crucial for so many of our families while school is out,” said Bertrand Weber, director of MPS’ Culinary and Wellness Services Director of the Minneapolis Public Schools. “This app will provide families and students the location of available meals near them, the menu and time of service. The summer menu is designed to provide a healthy blend of kids’ favorites that incorporate whole grain goodness, lean proteins, fruits, vegetables and milk.”
By The Numbers
The Summer Eats Minnesota app includes 700 sites throughout the state that provided free meals to all children up to age 18. There were 1700 downloads during the summer of 2017.
The sites served 168,600 meals and collected nearly $457,000 in corresponding federal reimbursement revenue.
In addition to the positive feedback from kids, parents and food providers, the app caught the attention of area media, including stories in the Star Tribune, Pioneer Press, WCCO-TV, KSTP-TV, KARE 11-TV, Fox 9-TV, City Pages, North News, Southwest Journal, Modern Farmer, Mankato Free Press WCCO radio, MPR, KMOJ and Go 95.3 radio.
The story was presented to 1.7 million viewers in print and broadcast. In addition, it had 24 million unique monthly views online.
The development of the app was an exciting first step in expanding summer meals for hungry kids in Minnesota. But there is much work to be done. Goals for 2018 and beyond include:
- Increase the number of app users through publicity and marketing
- Increase the number of sponsored state-wide sites
- Target the 200 severe-need areas with 50 percent or greater populations of eligible children
- Increase participation by eligible kids from 15 percent to 35 percent
The opportunity is there for potentially 2.7 million new summer meals and $6 million in reimbursement revenue.