Tuesday, July 08, 2008

As Schools Close for Vacation, Doors Open for Summer Meals

As New York City children celebrate the beginning of summer vacation, sites across the five boroughs are ensuring that children can continue to receive free, nutritious meals throughout the summer. Over 700 hundred New York City schools, community centers, public pools, soup kitchens and food pantries participate in the federally-funded Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), offering breakfast and lunch throughout the summer to all children under 19. SFSP’s summer meals serve as a reliable source of nutritious food for children whose choices are otherwise limited to the offerings nearby fast food restaurants and bodegas, and who are more likely to gain weight and develop poor eating habits over the summer than during the school year. For students like ninth-grader Jessica Silva, free SFSP meals have already become an integral part of summer break. Says Silva, “If you don’t have money, or are just hungry and want free food, you can come here. It’s really good, too.”

Though program policies focus on making summer meals accessible-no fee, application, or ID is required to receive meals-nationwide participation rates are still well-below those of in-school free and reduced-price meal programs, which also suffer from underutilization. “Tens of thousands of [New York City] children are being reached through this program but hundreds of thousands of children need it, so we really need to get the word out about kids and parents needing to call 311 to find sites nearest them,” said New York City Coalition Against Hunger Executive Director Joel Berg. In an effort to increase awareness of SFSP, NYCCAH continues to conduct outreach among soup kitchen and food pantry customers while recruiting agencies to serve as future summer meals sites. Congress is set to review funding for SFSP, school meals and WIC before current funds expire in September 2009.

Visit the New York Department of Education for participating summer meals sites near you.

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