Many kids eagerly anticipate the break from schoolwork and hours of endless playtime that come with summer vacation. But for many families, months away from school means months they have to scramble to put extra meals on the table.
Kids who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch sometimes eat their only full meal at school. According to No Kid Hungry, 13 million kids in the U.S. struggle with hunger and three out of four teachers say they have students who come to school hungry. Food insecurity, defined as limited availability of nutritious and safe food, is more common in cities, with 25 percent of kids living in large cities experiencing food insecurity.
Operation Food Search in St. Louis aims to fill in the summer gap by providing breakfast and lunch to kids who would normally get those meals at school. Some of the meals distributed through the program come from vans that look like food trucks. Last year, 15 percent of the 95,292 meals distributed in St. Louis city and county were given out by the van. The roving truck allows kids who can’t make it to stationary sites, like libraries and community centers, to have access to the free meals.
“What we saw last year is some of our children would count on us being there every day,” Operation Food Search Sunny Schaefer told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Fifty-one percent of Missouri students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, but only 9 percent of those kids participate in the summer meal program.
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If you’re looking for free meals for kids in your area, you can text FOOD to 877877 to get a message back that gives the closest location where food is available. The service is run by No Kid Hungry in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Food and Agriculture, which runs the Summer Food Service Program. According to the USDA, more than 200 million free meals will be served at SFSP approved sites this summer.
In New Britain, Connecticut, a food truck called the Buzzin’ Bistro will roam residential neighborhoods, providing free breakfast and lunch. The truck will be emblazoned with a bee, the New Britain symbol, and is painted the high school’s colors.
“We’re going to reach children in a way that we’ve never been able to reach them before, feeding them in the summertime in areas we’ve never been able to reach before,” said Jeffrey Taddeo, residential district manager for Whitsons Culinary Services, which runs food service in New Berlin schools. High poverty levels in the area mean all 10,200 students in the district qualify for free lunches.
Lunch Lizard trucks in Mesa County, Colorado make sure area kids have full bellies in the summer. The program has three trucks that make 17 different stops, getting kids nutritious foods they need but may not have access to at home.
On the menu?
“Fresh fruit, fresh vegetables each day, along with milk and a grain option, along with some main dish,” Dan Sharp, a nutritionist in the district, told KKCO11. Routes include places like parks where many kids hang out in the summer.
The district also distributes backpacks of food to help kids get through the weekend, since the trucks only operate Monday through Friday.