By Patricia L. Fitzgerald 2017-01-31 22:44:26
» Suggestions to help you raise awareness and participation for your Summer Meals Program. Since most parts of the country are singing the mid-winter blues this month, many may find it somewhat jarring to contemplate strategies for increasing participation in your Summer Meals Program. But savvy school nutrition professionals know that you need to plan far in advance for the best chance at success. (Still, if you can’t bear to think about summer in any other context than your own beachside vacation right now, earmark this page for future reference when you’re ready.) Let’s start with a quick overview of the program to set the table, so to speak. The Summer Meals Program (officially known as the Summer Food Service Program) is a federal child nutrition program that provides kids and teens in low-income areas with free meals when school is out. The program is administered by USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) through state agencies. Sponsors enter into agreements with the state agencies to run the program at one or more sites. Sites may be located in a variety of settings, including schools, parks, community centers, health clinics, apartment complexes, churches, migrant centers and more. A school nutrition operation may be a sponsor of multiple sites, including those that are not on school grounds. Less than one-quarter of the 21 million children who receive a free or reduced-price lunch during the school year participate in the Summer Meals Program. Increasing access has been an important priority for USDA and for school nutrition professionals who know better than most how much low-income children rely on the meals they eat at school. School nutrition operations are key elements in expanding access, as more can step up to become Summer Meals Program sponsors—and existing sponsors can work with community partners to identify more sites where children can congregate and meals can be served. But equally important is marketing the availability of free summer meals to families in the community. What more can you do to help raise awareness and ensure that the children you know are not going hungry when school is out? First, know that you don’t have to go it alone. FNS has greatly expanded its online resources, which now feature a comprehensive Summer Meals Toolkit, program guidance, best practices, webinars and videos and mapping tools. Check these out at www.fns.usda.gov/sfsp/summer-meals-toolkit. In addition, Share Our Strength is a USDA partner organization to support Summer Meals through its No Kid Hungry initiative. Among the free resources you can find online at its Center for Best Practices (bestpractices.nokidhungry.org) are guides, case studies, videos, public service announcements and more. These include the Sodexo Stop Hunger Foundation Summer Meals Outreach Toolkit, which features both media and general outreach tactics and support materials. Let’s get started, however, by looking at two specific marketing strategies: kick-off events and new technology tools. Later in 2017, School Nutrition will publish a Part 2 article to share more ideas on this important topic. MAKE A SPLASH! While many Summer Meals sites are, in fact, pool and rec centers, the splash we’re referring to is a big kick-off event. This is a great way to introduce Summer Meals to the community. The best time to host a kick-off event is either at the beginning of June, during National Summer Kick-Off Week, or right after the end of the academic school year, or the week before your Summer Meals Program begins or even on the first day of service. In short, you have flexibility to identify the best date for you and your partners. Partner engagement is crucial to the success of individual meal sites, but you can use this kick-off event to involve even more community groups, as well. These can include food pantries, health agencies, libraries, rec centers, organizations that provide enrichment activities for children, fire and police departments, utility companies, the American Red Cross, local radio and television stations and youth service organizations. Not only does this make your event a hub that introduces families to a host of community services, but it can vastly expand your outreach potential; partners can help you promote meal availability all summer long. The site for your kick-off event will depend on how many partner organizations are participating and how many people you expect to show up. Consider sites in central, locations, particularly those that can be reached by public transportation. Is there one meal site where you expect the most participation? That might be a good location to consider for your event. Depending on the scope of your event and the number of partner participants involved, it could last for a few hours in the morning or afternoon or it could be an all-day extravaganza. Do you expect public officials or local celebrities to be on hand? If so, then you will want to take advantage of their presence with some type of ceremonial activity. Will the event feature informational booths or tables? Do you plan to serve meals or menu samples? Whatever you decide is the best mix of information and activity, make sure it’s fresh, fun and entertaining! The bigger the event, the more important it is that you don’t lose sight of its primary purpose: to raise awareness about the Summer Meals Program. If Mom is getting her blood pressure checked and Dad is getting a tour of the new fire truck and the kids are gaping in awe at a juggler, you’ll want to make sure everyone goes home with an information sheet featuring key details about the location of meal sites, service times and so on. TOP TECH Our society is becoming increasingly reliant on communications technology tools, from websites to smartphones to social media to apps to text messaging. While individual program sponsors have already capitalized on this technology in varying degrees, they’re getting some help from USDA and its partners. Texting provides convenient, realtime access to local site information. No Kid Hungry has developed a free texting service that provides information about local meal sites, as well as about other area food resources. Families simply text “Food” to 877-877 to receive details about their neighborhood. Share Our Strength welcomes and encourages Summer Meals sponsors to include information about the No Kids Hungry texting service in outreach materials. The FNS Summer Meal Site Finder is a web-based tool with similar information. Families may visit the online locator any time after May 15 to access its updated map. New sites are added as the school year ends in different communities. Visit www.fns.usda.gov/summerfoodrocks to check this out yourself and then publicize its availability through your own outreach materials. Also make sure to use your existing social media channels to promote your Summer Meal service. Not only is this valuable outreach to parents, but it raises awareness among other community organizations, who may become future partners for everything from site expansion to enrichment activities to equipment funders and more. Do you tweet? Be sure to follow @USDANutrition and retweet its posts about Summer Meals. Use the #SummerFoodRocks hashtag to expand your reach. If you have a Facebook page, use that to spread the word, as well. As always, when posting photos of children, be sure you have appropriate parental permissions. Work closely with your district’s communications office and the hosting organizations of non-school sites. ESSENTIAL SUMMER For many kids, summertime means food, friends and fun. But for families who count on school breakfast and lunch to bridge the hunger gap for their children, the summer months can be stressful, stretching food budgets to the breaking point. Summer Meal Programs are a critical community service. Let’s reach record highs for participation in Summer 2017! Patricia Fitzgerald is editor of School Nutrition. Photos courtesy of No Kid Hungry.
Published by School Nutrition Association. View All Articles.
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