What is the Summer Meals Program? You may be thinking: “Free Meals? No way!” Yes way. SFSP stands for Summer Food Service Program, also known as the Summer Meals Program is funded by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and administered by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) to provide free meals over the summer to kids 18 or younger. A community is eligible for an SFSP site if more than 50% of the population in that area is over the poverty line. At meal sites, children can receive a healthy meal in a safe place to eat and build friendships. Many sites also offer educational activities and games. This equals Food, Friends, and Fun!
There are open sites and closed sites for free meals. Open sites are meal sites where anyone age 18 or younger can get a free meal. There is no fee, no sign-up, and no proof of identity or legal status required. You just walk in and grab a meal! Closed sites are meal sites that require sign-up and sometimes require a small fee to participate throughout the summer. These can include summer camps or other programming that you have to register for.
Why do we need the Summer Meals Program? Summer can be the hungriest time of the year for kids and the most expensive time for parents. Kids and parents who rely on free or reduced – price meals through the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) no longer have access to these meals when school is out for the summer.
The Summer Meals Program is severely underutilized. According to the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) for every 100 children who eat a meal in NSLP, only 14 receive a meal during the summer months in Illinois. To help close this gap, the Summer Meals Program serves meals to kids when school is out helping families make their food budgets work in the summer.
How does the Summer Meals Program work? It seems too good to be true- where does the money for Free Summer Meals come from? The USDA funds the Free Summer Meals program. Sponsors are chosen by ISBE. Sponsors figure out a food service to supply the meals, fill out reimbursement forms, pay for the food up front, and choose sites (specific places where kids can go to get meals). These sites provide the food to kids, set up activities, and keep track of how many kids come every day. Sites are strategically located to help serve the greatest number of kids and the areas that need summer food the most!
Sites record how many meals were served per day. That information is then sent to the sponsor, who fills out reimbursement forms. Reimbursement forms are then sent to the USDA through ISBE. Sponsors recieve a check from the USDA for all the meals they served.
To find a site near you, CALL (800) 359-2163, or TEXT FOODIL to 877877.
Keep up-to-date on success stories and other Summer Meals information by following us on facebook: SummerMealsIllinois or twitter: @SummerMealsIL.
We hope to see you at a Summer Meals site this summer!