By Dayle Hayes, Ms, Rd 2015-02-24 19:33:06
Savvy school nutrition directors know that two things are certain about summer meals. First, summer meals offer the greatest opportunity for growing participation in school nutrition programs. According to 2014 data from USDA, during the peak month of July, the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) fed some 2.6 million students nationwide. That is only 12.7% of the free/reduced-price lunches served in May 2014 (20.7 million). It’s a bit difficult to make direct comparisons, however, because the summer meal number total includes breakfasts, as well as meals served to children under kindergarten age. Nonetheless, it is crystal clear that there is a significant summer meal gap—more than 87% of children eligible for free/reduced-price meals are not getting them during summer months. That’s a lot of hungry children who need meals—and, frankly, a lot of reimbursement dollars available to support individual school nutrition operations left on the table. There is a second thing that experienced directors know, however, and that is the fact that it can be a real challenge to increase meal participation during the summer months. It’s not as simple as “serve it and they will come.” Still, there are many successful ways to grow a summer program—both gradually and more dramatically— and the right approach exists for school systems of all sizes and socio-economics. There is also an abundance of resources for those communities that want to make sure that more low-income students get the food they need when school is out. Smart strategies for closing the summer meal gap are always being collected and shared by SNA, anti-hunger organizations, USDA pilot programs and veteran school nutrition sponsors and vendors. Let this article be just your first stop. START SMART If you want to begin or expand a summer food program, start now. The Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) has developed a simple, one-page Summer Nutrition Programs Implementation Calendar (http://tinyurl.com/FRACSummer Cal), which offers a year-round, step-by-step guide. Download it right now, quickly scan what you will need to make up from January and February, and then focus on the logistics suggested for March/April. Do not focus on being late to the starting gate; follow Teddy Roosevelt’s advice: Do what you can, with what you have, where you are. Check other FRAC resources. Visit www.frac.org to review all the summer feeding resources available that can help you get up-to-speed efficiently. Click on the Federal Food/Nutrition Programs tab to access the organization’s summer nutrition program page. There, you will find a link to new USDA guidance about using U.S. Census data to increase the number of sites that qualify for area eligibility, as well as a “Target Mapper” that will help you explore demographics of potential sites. Search for grants. Many summer food grant proposals are due in March and April. Check with your state child nutrition office, as well as state No Kid Hungry programs, local/state food banks and local agencies and advocacy groups whose mission is to fight hunger and/or support programs for children and teens. CHOOSE SMART SITES Like the age-old advice about real estate, building successful participation rates for summer meal programs is all about location, location, location! In general, the smartest sites seem to be those where your customers (children ages 2 to 19) are already spending their time: summer programs in schools, parks, pools, camps, clubs, churches, libraries—basically anywhere that children tend to congregate. School bus routes also have become a popular way to reach eligible youngsters, especially in rural areas. Match sites with meal delivery options. Are you serving grab ‘n’ go from a vehicle? Are meals hot or cold? Are there picnic facilities at your site? Is it indoors or outside? Is there shelter from rain or blistering heat? These decisions will have an impact on your menu, your labor and, ultimately, your participation. Maximize delivery of fresh, hot meals. If you feed them well, they will come. Many summer meals site operators confirm that children (and their families) prefer hot meals to cold sandwiches. But even with that preference, summer can be a great time to expand your farm-to-school purchases for fresh fruit and veggies. LOOK FOR SOME SMART SUPPORT School nutrition pros agree that connecting with stakeholders at all levels is essential for success in summer feeding. This means engaging in active and ongoing communication with everyone who might be a stakeholder or supporter, from your superintendent and school athletic director to local lawmakers and the administrator of area recreation programs. Develop partnerships. Since many summer meal programs operate outside of schools, and you may be serving as a vendor to a sponsoring organization, partnerships with community organizations are essential. Since collaborations are more successful when partners are part of the planning process, set up a meeting with your potential partners ASAP! Make programming connections. Another point of universal agreement: Summer feeding works best when you “serve up” more than food. Work with your partners to organize fun physical activities, visits by special guests (such as local sports team members, zoo animals, farmers, magicians, clowns) and reading programs. Gather your team to start brainstorming a list of potential programs that can be conducted at serving sites ASAP! SMART Math Share Our Strength, in collaboration with Deloitte Consulting, has developed the “No Kid Hungry School Calculator” to help key decision makers understand the financial impact—and opportunities— of expanding meal progra ms like the Summer Food Service Program. Once operators collec t some current data about their program (including demographics, projected participation and costs, serving days, meal prep style, etc.), it takes just 8 minutes to complete a calculation for one of the programs (breakfast, summer, afterschool meals and snacks). Results include cost-per-meal, total costs, federal reimbursements, revenue from students and the annual net total. Visit http://bestpractices.nokidhungry.org/busi ness-model-tool-0 to get started! 14 SMART STRATEGIES AT WORK From coast to coast, school nutrition professionals showed amazing creativity in summer meal menuing, delivery, service and related activities last year. Alabama: Mobile County Public Schools served healthy foods with a Southern twist (baked chicken tenders and sweet potato sticks) at 19 schools and delivered meals to 12 rural sites using a “Super Food Express” bus and van. California: Riverside Unified School District (RUSD) branded its summer meal program: RUSD F.E.E.D.S. (Food for Every child to Eat During Summer). Each day they offered a daily outdoor barbecue, along with physical activities. Delaware: Laurel School District partnered with a local state park to offer a no-cost STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) program. Participating students came to a school site for breakfast, were bused to the state park for the educational program and then returned to school for lunch. Georgia: Brantley County Schools served meals along eight different bus routes to rural areas. Each route made six stops; students had the option to get on the bus to enjoy lunch with their friends. After service, the driver cleaned and sanitized the seating areas before moving on to the next stop. Florida: Pinellas County Schools, in collaboration with the Florida Partnership to End Childhood Hunger, used eight trucks (six carrying hot/cold meals and two cold-only) that traveled to five low-income apartment complexes run by the Pinellas County Housing Authority. Kentucky: McLean County Board of Education partnered with an area bookmobile that visited each town in the county. The driver picked up meals from the school kitchen and let the children eat and check out books during stops. Montana: Billings Public Schools served meals in local parks that featured “Reading Rocks” presentations (volunteers read and give away free books). These giveaways reliably increased participation on the days they were scheduled. New York: Gates Chili Central School District used a grant from the American Dairy Association and Dairy Council to purchase colorful shirts with the school nutrition department logo on the front and “Ask me how to get free meals” on the back. Oklahoma: Stillwater Public Schools partnered with the athletic director and conditioning coaches to provide meals on location to high school athletes; band members also attended during their summer practices. Pennsylvania: Southmoreland School District tripled participation at a low-attendance site with the addition of activity programs presented by a physical education and an art teacher, whose salaries were paid by the school district. Rhode Island: Pawtucket Schools invited a minor league baseball team, the Pawtucket Red Sox, and their mascot Paws, to join students for lunch one day and distributed free baseball game tickets. Texas: Nacogdoches Independent School District partnered with the city water department to include details about summer meals offered at its school, mobile, park and other sites into the message section of water bills that were mailed throughout the community in May through August. Vermont: Twin Valley Schools partnered with such community organizations as the Rotary, Lions, Elks and faith-based groups to help deliver meals from the central school kitchen to remote summer feeding sites. Utah: Provo Schools invited fire department trucks to visit serving sites, where children and family members engaged with the fire fighters, learning about fire safety, touring the trucks and even enjoying some spray from water hoses on especially hot days. UTILIZE SMART COMMUNICATIONS When and how should you communicate your summer foodservice plans? Start now—and use every communication channel you can. Families, kids and community members all need to know dates, times and locations of your summer feeding sites. Knowing what’s on the menu is an important incentive, too. Don’t rely on one primary point of communication, even if it’s individual letters sent home. Families need to get the details repeatedly, in as many different ways as possible. Communicate directly at the end of school. Use end-of-school events or other school communications to share summer feeding information. Several districts distribute flyers and custom-labeled water bottles to parents and guardians during the last week of classes. Use electronic and media channels. Text, tweet and post program information through your school meals and school district channels—and those of your partners, as well. Make sure to include all summer feeding information on your primary web page as soon as it is available. Work with local TV and radio stations to air public service announcements (PSAs) and news stories. SMART SUMMER “STEALS” Feeling overwhelmed at gearing up and getting going with only three months until summer feeding starts? Here’s the most important tip of all: Do NOT reinvent any wheels—or even flyers, press releases, PSAs and graphics for your delivery vans. There are resources for every aspect of summer meal service that are just a mouse click away. All you have to do is find a little quiet time to get online and check them out. Check out state resources: Many state agencies have a website or online toolkit devoted to summer foodservice programs. One excellent example is Fresh for Florida Kids section of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Service’s Division of Food, Nutrition and Wellness. It features the “Summer Break Spot” resources at www.summerfoodflorida.org. Check out USDA resources: USDA’s SFSP website features a toolkit, innovative strategies, training videos, recorded webinars and more at www.fns.usda.gov/sfsp/summer-food-service-program-sfsp. Check out Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign resources: The anti-hunger advocacy organization actively promotes the SFSP as an important strategy in closing the gap for school-age children. Its SFSP Center for Best Practices (http://bestpractices.nokidhungry.org/free-summer-mealskids) features toolkits, webinars and numerous best-practice success stories. Check out dairy council resources: Your local dairy council may be able to help offset the costs of needed equipment and supplies (such as insulated bags and disposable foodservice ware), as well as help you organize special events, like a Fuel Up to Play 60 summer meals kickoff at a brand-new site. To find your local dairy council, start by visiting www.nationaldairycouncil.org. A CLOSER LOOK AT ONE SMART STRATEGY Going Mobile in Worcester Donna Lombardi, MEd, RD, director of nutrition, Worcester (Mass.) Public Schools, has used every strategy in the toolkit—and then some—to make certain that hungry children have summer meals in her community. She has developed solid, sustainable partnerships, obtained significant grant funding and continually expanded both the numbers of sites and numbers of participants—and she has only just begun! Her mantra: “Each summer is an opportunity for further expansion.” The Worcester “Fun in the Sun” Summer Food Truck Initiative is one example of that attitude in action. Lombardi wanted to feed more children, maintain food safety and ensure proper accounting of both meals and funds. She’d had a longstanding relationship with the Worcester County Food Bank (WCFB), so when WCFB Executive Director Jean McMurray was approached by grocery chain Stop & Shop’s New England and Our Family Foundation to apply for grant funding focused on healthy meals for children, “It was very natural for me to call Donna Lombardi and ask her for ideas,” recounts McMurray. Lombardi immediately pitched the idea of a food truck to deliver meals to summer recreation sites, such as swimming pools. “We pursued this idea, and with the funding we received,” McMurray continues, “WCFB purchased the truck and then donated it to the Worcester Public Schools.” One refrigerated truck began delivering meals to two city pools in Summer 2013, with an average of 50 breakfasts and 100-200 suppers served every day. The program literally exploded in 2014. Meals prepared by Worcester Public Schools were delivered to the city’s five library sites in addition to the two pools. The total 4,100 meals served in 2013 swelled to more than 13,000 in 2014—a three-fold increase in one year! Lombardi attributes the increase in participation to location, of course, but also to quality. The refrigerated truck keeps food at an optimal—and safe—temperature, so she is able to menu more nutrient-rich foods, such as yogurt, parfaits and fresh produce. “These meals tasted good and were fun to eat,” reports Lombardi. “Children helped us spread the word about the food and the numbers progressively increased throughout the summer.” With continued funding from Stop & Shop, ongoing support by WCFB and wide coverage in the local media, the Worcester Public Schools school nutrition team is gearing up for another summer of good food and fun in the sun. “In Summer 2015, we are planning to add the Family Housing Authorities and two YMCA summer camps to our delivery schedule,” previews Lombardi. “The YMCA staff are ecstatic that meals will be delivered at meal time, with serving and counting functions performed by the driver and assistant!” Worcester’s summer food trucks are clearly a win for everyone! Dayle Hayes is a nutrition consultant and speaker based in Billings, Mont. She also maintains the School Meals That Rock Facebook page (www.facebook.com/SchoolMealsThatRock). You can reach her at EatWellatSchool@gmail.com. Photos by Rick Brady, Share Our Strength, Share Our Strength/Katarina Price and courtesy of Worcester County Public Schools.
Published by School Nutrition Association. View All Articles.
This page can be found at http://mydigimag.rrd.com/article/Getting+a+Smart+Start+for+Summer/1938299/247634/article.html.