Summer food program ensures children are eating when school’s out

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Edith Martinez, 7, eats multigrain Cheerios for breakfast. The Texas Department of Agriculture has a nutrition program available to make sure kids get meals when they're not in school. (Photo by Christina Ulsh)

 
Going to the pool, sleeping in and avoiding math equations are a few activities students can expect to do when the school year is over. Thanks to a state nutrition program, going hungry does not have to be on the list.

The Summer Food Service Program provides low-income students who rely on school breakfasts and lunches each semester with nutritious meals during the summer months.

“Hunger doesn’t take a break during the summer,” said Mark Loeffler, communications director for the Texas Department of Agriculture.

SFSP is available to any person 18 years old and younger. Aside from that and eating on-site, there are no other requirements.

“The goal is to provide meals at no cost to kids during the summer break,” Loeffler said. “We want there to be a continuity of nutritious meals available so that they can start in the fall ready to go.”

Click the picture to visit the interactive map and find the food program locations near you. (Screenshot from summerfood.org)

The USDA-funded program partners with site sponsors across the state. There are 65 sites within a ten-mile radius of the 75067 zip code.

The program is available to areas where the amount of students who receive free or reduced-cost school meals is 50 percent or greater.

Lewisville ISD has 10 campuses that serve the free meals during breakfast and lunchtime, said Jennifer Kattner, director of child nutrition operations with the district. She estimated LISD serves between 1,500 and 2,000 meals a day.

“The need is clear,” Kattner said. “Many of our campuses are located in food deserts and food insecurity is unfortunately a thing a lot of our children are struggling with.”

The meals are comparable to those served throughout the school year.

Meals served through the Summer Food Services Program include fruit, vegetables, multigrain products, a form of protein and low-fat milk. (Photo by Christina Ulsh)

“Oftentimes our families from our lower income households don’t always get to provide fresh fruit and vegetables and milk to their students and really a full and bountiful meal like they would be getting at the school,” she said.

Kattner said those wanting to help can do so by sharing information about the program wherever they touch the community, whether that’s at church or at the laundromat.

Sites are also available at recreation centers, libraries and multi-residential complexes, such as apartments and mobile home parks.

Nonprofit S. Tracy Howard Project coordinates sites throughout Lewisville, Denton, Dallas, Euless and Richardson, serving about 3,500 youth a day.

“We have had occurrences on several occasions where children were not having anything at all to eat and through our service they were able to get a breakfast and a nutritious lunch,” said Teddy Howard, CEO of the nonprofit. “The benefit of our program is that we are serving hot meals and not just cold sandwiches.”

The nonprofit served lasagna for lunch the day LTJ spoke to Howard. The group functions as a catering company would, with distribution centers and temperature controlled equipment, Howard said.

“Studies have verified that proper nutrition means better grades and a better opportunity and a successful life. That’s what it encompasses for the child and the family,” Howard said. “It’s a financial relief for some families that can’t afford to feed their children… it certainly eliminates a financial burden for them.”

There are volunteer opportunities with S. Tracy Howard Project. Volunteers serve food and arrange activities before or after the meals. To volunteer, send an email to sthproject@aol.com.

A sign notifies residents at Basswood Manor of the nutrition program available on-site. Residents were also notified through door flyers. (Photo by Christina Ulsh)

One of the locations the nonprofit manages is at the Basswood Manor apartment complex. Mother of three Zing Tial brings her children to get breakfast and lunch everyday it is available in the apartment lobby.

Tial said the children enjoy being able to eat with other kids in the complex. She said it’s also easier to get them to eat when they’re eating with other kids, a more difficult task at home. She said she’s grateful for the vitamins and nutrition the program provides her kids.

“Thank you for helping our kids around here,” she said to SFSP organizers.

Go to summerfood.org to find locations near you.

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