2017 Summer Meals Kickoff Event

Join the Chicago Summer Food Working Group for their annual Chicago Summer Meals Kick-off Event, on Friday June 23rd from 10 AM – 2 PM at Horner Park, 2741 W. Montrose Ave, Chicago, IL 60618. There will be lots of fun games, activities, and performances for kids and their families. Performances and activities include JWT (Jesse White Tumblers), Rainbow Fish book readings by Author, Marcus Pfister, and soccer with members of the UIC Flames.

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The Summer Meals kick-off event promotes and brings awareness to the Summer Meals Program. The Summer Food Service Program (SFSP); 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). The program provides nutritious meals to kids, age 18 and younger during the summer months ensuring children’s bodies and minds are healthy, strong and ready for the next school year.

Summer can be the hungriest time of the year for kids and the most expensive time for parents as kids no longer have access to free or reduced-price meals through the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). To help close this gap, the Summer Meals Program serves meals to kids during the summer months.

Kickoff the Summer Meals Program Friday, June 23rd at 10 AM in Horner Park!

#ChiSummerMealsKickoff17 on Twitter & Facebook.

What is SFSP?


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!

Summer Meals rock in Rock Island

Thirteen years ago, staff at Church of Peace in Rock Island began working on the Summer Meals Program with just one site. This year there are 29 sites and they are still growing.

Children enjoying lunch at one of Church of Peace's 29 Summer Meals sites.

Children enjoying lunch at one of Church of Peace’s 29 Summer Meals sites.

1 in 5 children in Rock Island is at risk of hunger. Nora Steele, Summer Meals Program Sponsor, knows that reality perhaps better than anyone. “The elementary school 2 blocks from the church has 98.9% free and reduced-priced meal eligibility. All the schools in the city of Rock Island are over 50% eligibility.” In many households, healthy options are limited, or parents are at work during the day. “I work a 12 hour day” says one mother, “and do not allow my children out by themselves. With [Church of Peace] picking them up and bussing them to the site, I was able to relax knowing they would have meals they enjoyed and were good for them.” The summer meals program offers breakfast and lunch at many of their sites and also has some supper programs. The program serves approximately 1,600 children per day, or 34 percent of the city’s eligible children, which is well over the state’s participation rate of 14 percent. According to Carlos Jiminez, site manager at the Martin Luther King Center, “Some of these kids will not eat a hot meal throughout the whole day. It is important for us to serve breakfast and lunch and to have healthy options.”

The community garden at Shiela Solomon's Summer Meals site thrives with the help of neighborhood kids who come to each lunch at the site everyday.

The community garden at Shiela Solomon’s Summer Meals site thrives with the help she receives from neighborhood children during lunchtime.

But, it’s not just about distributing meals. Sheila Solomon leads the Community Garden project in Rock Island and has provided two plots for children participating in Summer Meals Programs to plant and grow their own vegetables. This gives children more motivation to try new vegetables that show up in their lunches when they have seen them growing right at their lunch site. “The kids are excited every day – they come early to help set up and then they garden and eat.” Church of Peace’s Summer Meals Program serves a critical need in Rock Island, and they plan to expand, continuing to fulfill their mission of ending childhood hunger in their community.

How does SFSP work?

It seems too good to be true- where does the money for Free Summer Meals come from? The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) funds the Free Summer Meals program. The program was created in 1968 to help feed children over the summer.

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Food for Thought

Summer is a difficult time for hungry children in our community. When school is out, children enrolled in the free or reduced price meal program lose two meals per day. This need is significant, but many organizations respond with programs and partnerships that distribute nutritious food and increase awareness of summer feeding programs.

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Parents go door-to-door to raise awareness for summer programs

One of the main roadblocks to feeding hungry children during the summer is awareness, as families in need often don’t know about the programs available to them. To address this issue, the Food Depository partners with Community Organizing and Family Issues (COFI), a group centered on family-focused community organizing.

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Community Atmosphere in Riverton

Riverton is a community where a retiree loads up to six children in her car to get them to the nearest free meal. It’s a community where the police department delivers food for kids every summer day. A community where a preschool teacher has taken it upon herself to start a meal program. And Riverton is a community where 80 to 90 children now receive nutritious meals and activities daily.

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