TOPEKA — Thanks to a system developed by No Kid Hungry and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, children and parents can find summer meal sites by sending a quick text. The summer meals texting hotline service is available across the United States, including Kansas.
Last summer, sponsoring organizations from across Kansas served more than 1.3 million summer meals through the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), said Kelly Chanay, assistant director for the Kansas State Department of Education’s (KSDE) Child Nutrition and Wellness (CNW) team.
During each school year, more than 340,000 Kansas children eat lunch at school, said Cheryl Johnson, director of KSDE’s CNW team. However, when school lets out, only about 30,000 students eat a meal at SFSP meal sites. The texting hotline is an important tool that can help people find meal sites in their area.
“We have found that many families are not aware where they can go for a free summer meal for children 1-18 years old,” Johnson said. “The Kansas meal sites not only serve tasty food, but also many sites provide fun activities to help children be healthy and ready to learn when school starts again in the fall.”
Parents can find summer meal sites in their community by texting the word “food” and their zip code to 877-877. Within seconds, a text message listing participating locations and their hours of operation will be sent. By texting the word “Comida” to the same number, parents can access the meal sites in Spanish.
“One of the biggest barriers to kids getting the food they need in the summer months is that families simply don’t know help is available,” said Derrick Lambert, program manager for No Kid Hungry’s Center for Best Practices. “We wanted to find a quick, streamlined way for folks to find summer meals, so No Kid Hungry developed the texting program.”
The database of open sites comes from official USDA data that is updated weekly, according to No Kid Hungry. If no sites are available in the user’s area, a text directs users to the National Hunger Clearinghouse hotline for additional assistance. The number is (866)-3-HUNGRY.
There are more than 75 new sites offering meals this summer in Kansas, Chanay said, and new counties have been added.
SFSP is administered by KSDE. The department has a goal of serving more than 1.5 million meals this summer, Chanay said. SFSP sponsors can be school districts, local government agencies, camps and private, nonprofit organizations.
Children ages 18 and younger may receive free meals and snacks at the approved sponsor sites through the SFSP.
For more information on SFSP, which was created in 1968, visit www.kn-eat.org and click on “Summer Food Service Program.”
No Kid Hungry’s summer meals texting program began in 2013. The organization continues to see strong growth in the use of the service, according to Lambert. There were 55,000 total texts from users in all 50 states and the District of Columbia during the summer of 2016. This is a 6 percent increase over 2015.
No Kid Hungry is a campaign operated by Share Our Strength. The No Kid Hungry campaign is focused on ending childhood hunger by connecting kids to the healthy food they need, according to nokidhungry.org. Share Our Strength, which is based in Washington, D.C., was started by siblings Bill and Debbie Shore in 1984 in response to the Ethiopia famine, the website states. More information about the organization and the services it offers can be accessed at nokidhungry.org.
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