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State education officials seek churches, community organizations to provide meals for kids during summercomment (0)

May 8, 2014

By Carrie Brown McWhorter

State education officials seek churches, community organizations to provide meals for kids during summer

Kids across Alabama look forward to summer vacation, but for many, the break from school also means a break from regular meals. The Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) provides a way for churches and community organizations to fill in this gap and feed children who otherwise might go hungry.

In both rural and urban areas throughout Alabama, thousands of children live in low-income families. During the school year, these children are eligible for free or reduced-price breakfast and lunch through the National School Lunch Program, a program of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). When schools close in the summer, so does the school cafeteria, depriving some students of the only meals they receive each day.

Some 385,000 children in Alabama schools receive subsidized meals during the school year, and the Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE) would like to see more of them receive meals during the summer months, said Danielle Turk, an education specialist with ALSDE. 

“The SFSP is one of the most underutilized federal programs in the country,” Turk said. “All children in the state are eligible to receive these meals, but there has to be a site near them to provide the meals.”

Alabama is making progress toward getting more partners in the program. In November 2013, the USDA recognized Alabama for increasing the number of summer meals served in 2013 to more than 1.6 million — an increase of 400,000 meals more than the previous summer. 

In a press release announcing the recognition, ALSDE Child Nutrition Program Coordinator June Barrett expressed her pride in the growth of the program and the work of the sponsor sites throughout the state. “These organizations are to be commended for their efforts in eliminating childhood hunger in their communities,” Barrett said.

However, there are still many students who are not served, which is why the ALSDE is trying to get the word out to potential partner organizations. While many schools do serve as summer feeding sites, churches, recreation centers, parks and camps are eligible for the SFSP too, Turk said. These locations offer safe and familiar environments and are places where children already gather when school is out.

Churches are especially good partners for the SFSP because many already have summer programs in place, Turk said. 

The SFSP will reimburse a sponsor site for two meals or a meal and a snack daily. The meal does not have to be complicated or even hot. Many sites offer a sack lunch, while others offer breakfast and a snack.

Kerry Payne, director of the Gadsden Parks and Recreation Department in Etowah County, said, “If it were not for the summer feeding program, some kids for sure might not get a nutritious meal daily.”

Payne serves as the coordinator for 20 SFSP sponsor sites throughout the city of Gadsden, including sites at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, Wills Creek Baptist Church, the YMCA and schools.

The program’s flexibility makes it a good fit for different situations, Turk said. Any child 18 or younger can receive a meal at a feeding site, and there is no minimum number of children who must participate, though there are guidelines for the adult-to-child ratio at each site. Fee-based camps are not eligible for reimbursement, but any free program, including Vacation Bible School-type programs, may be eligible.

Turk said, “The sponsor site gets to pick the days, times and weeks it will provide meals. The church or organization just needs the staff or volunteers to make it happen and the creativity to reach children in the community.”

For more information on how to become a 2014 SFSP sponsor or site, contact Alfredia Griffin at agriffin@alsde.edu or Danielle Turk at dturk@alsde.edu or call 334-242-8249.

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