A Look Back: Connecting Children to Nutritious Meals During Summer Months

The summer of 2012 showed growth and increased knowledge among stakeholders in the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). SFSP is federally funded through the USDA, administered by the Colorado Department of Education and implemented by schools, government agencies, private nonprofits and community organizations. Among these diverse partnerships, a common purpose connects the players: connect children to nutritious meals during the summer months.

With a historically low participation rate in SFSP, from 770,000 meals served in 2009 to 1.2 million meals in 2011, Colorado leaders are stepping up to engage the issue of summer nutrition. With over 217,000 children in Colorado receiving free and reduced-price meals during the school year, only 24,000 children accessed summer meals in June of 2011. We project strong growth based on preliminary data and the 10% increase of summer food sites operating in 2012.

While School Food Authorities, food banks and community organizations transition into in-school and after-school child nutrition programs (School Breakfast Program, National School Lunch Program, and the Child and Adult Care Food Program), Hunger Free Colorado and many partners are reflecting and documenting best practices and lessons learned from 2012 SFSP implementation.  After all, the three months of summer are crucial for the well-being of all children. Continued growth and improvement in SFSP programming is central to fulfilling the nutrition continuum, contributing to better academic performance, physical health and behavioral attitudes.

Increasing access to healthy summer food also provides an economic safety net for families and stimulus for communities.  In this period of challenging economic conditions, family budgets are stretched thin.  According to the USDA, the cost of feeding a child reaches well over $125, even on a minimal budget. With a family of four living at 185% of the federal poverty line, the additional $250 to feed both children can be burdensome and stressful.

For communities, SFSP reimbursement dollars mean employment for food service workers, bus drivers, educators and other support staff. Indirectly, the reimbursements support businesses such as food purveyors and vendors.  Despite these household-level and statewide benefits, Colorado continues to leave federal dollars on the table.

Colorado’s commitment to child nutrition in the summer months has made great strides but our collective work is not yet over —all children deserve access to healthy meals throughout each season.  Hunger Free Colorado continues work to ensure that all children in Colorado have access to adequate, nutritious food through existing and often underutilized child nutrition programs.

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