Apps and maps lead kids to summer lunch sites
By Liz Enbysk, Smart Cities Council
When school adjourns for the summer, many children who rely on school lunches for a nutritious mid-day meal have to look elsewhere to fill the void. But an app, a map and community-based efforts are making it easier for the 22 million children who are at risk to find free summer lunches.
App points to free lunches in Minneapolis
A Minneapolis nonprofit recently launched a free mobile app that shows kids where they can get free, nutritious meals during the summer months. The app, released by Hunger Impact Partners, is called Summer Eats Minnesota and is available at the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store.
"Summer can be a difficult time for kids because they don't get regular school meals," said Ellie Lucas, CEO of Hunger Impact Partners. Powered by GPS, the app shows locations of summer food sites sponsored by the Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS), their menus and days and hours of operation. Kids 18 and under can show up without prior signup for free meals at 80+ locations, including park and recreation sites, community centers and schools. The app shows the distance and directions to the nearest sites.
"Hunger does not take a vacation in the summer; knowing where to find a healthy meal is so crucial for so many of our MPS families while school is out," said Bertrand Weber, Culinary and Wellness Services Director of Minneapolis Public Schools. The summer menu, Weber added, is designed to provide a healthy blend of kids' favorites that incorporate whole grain goodness, lean proteins, fruits, vegetables and milk.
Lunch at the library
When the Fox River Valley Public Library District's Dundee branch in northeastern Kane County, Illinois decided to launch a summer lunch program this month, it didn't know how many children to expect. They had 50 turkey sandwiches and peaches on hand the first day, the Daily Herald reports. But 75 kids showed up and instead of sandwiches, some got peanut butter and crackers that first day.
"We learned there's a lot of hungry kids, and we were glad we could fill the void," Library Director Roxane Bennett explained. Now they're preparing for 100 kids because they don't have room to accommodate more.
Children who show up for free lunches are invited to participate in programs before and after lunch.
More and more libraries are stepping up to feed children who might otherwise go hungry in the summer and offer programming too. In Antioch, California, the local library is serving free lunch three days a week this summer. Children are invited to stick around for activities like Tech Tuesdays when they receive a new Summer Reading challenge and play with a tech toy from the library collection. Every Wednesday they're invited to spend an hour after lunch learning how to code using the library's laptop computers.
And in the Cape Henlopen School District in Delaware, a mobile feeding program has been combined with the district's bookmobile program. Children can get a free lunch and check out books at the same time.
Aimee Beam, who oversees the summer food program for the Delaware Department of Education, tells DelawareOnline that one of the goals of the summer food program is to help prevent summer learning loss.
If children are not fed or well-nourished, Beam says, it can affect so many things, from their health to their learning.
RX for hunger at MUSC
Now in its third year, the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston and its food management company Sodexo offer free breakfasts and lunches at the hospital during the summer to children 18 and under.
"The children can select for themselves from a variety of healthy and beautiful type of food," hospital dietician Debbie Petitpain said in a Live5News story. "Every day we offer two or three hot entrees we offer several different types of vegetables of every color of the rainbow, the children get to be exposed to a variety of food. They get to select the choices that they like so we know that'll increase the chance that they'll actually eat it and that they'll have a pleasurable experience."
In the first two years the hospital served about 7,500 meals to children.
Petitpain would like to see more hospitals doing the same.
"That's really exciting to think if we have served 7,500 meals in the first two years and then every other hospital in the nation started following suit, all of a sudden we're really helping to move the needle to fight food insecurity in our local community," Petitpain said.
Digital map shows where the meals are
The U.S. Department Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service offers a web tool that shows where nutritious free meals are available for children and teens age 18 and under across the U.S. The Summer Meal Site Finder is updated regularly with new sites.
Liz Enbysk is editor of the Smart Cities Council’s Compassionate Cities initiative, which highlights how city leaders and other stakeholders can leverage smart technologies to end suffering in their communities and give all citizens a route out of poverty.