By Rachel E. O’Connell 2017-06-15 13:01:26
» Don’t let hunger become a nightmare for kids when school is out. Market the availability of free meals all summer long. In February, SN published “Have a No Bummer Summer,” (To Your Credit, page 65), which featured suggestions for raising awareness and participation for your Summer Meals Program. That article focused specifically on applying top technology tools, such as text messaging, social media sharing and a web-based site finder, to your summer marketing efforts. In addition, we looked at how to beat the heat with a cool kick-off event that involves different community partners and attracts the media. But now, June is on the wane. Even though your program launch event had tremendous turnout, it’s likely that as the novelty has worn off, participation is beginning to flag. Why? Summer meals are directed to low-income families that desperately need this nutrition safety net for their children. Shouldn’t that fact alone guarantee a steady stream of kids at your various serving sites? Yes and no. It depends, in part, on whether you are bringing meals to children or whether you need them to come to your designated sites. Consider the popular neighborhood ice cream truck that rolls down the street, playing the same jingle each day and compelling children from all corners to scratch together some pennies, nickels and dimes to buy a treat. If you have a brightly colored food truck or bus that canvasses lower-income neighborhoods, it’s likely that it, too, will compel children from all corners to get their free meal. But what if you don’t have access to the summer meals version of an ice cream truck? What if you are serving meals at school sites, maybe a park or two, perhaps a summer church camp or rec center? Surely, the kids will keep showing up at these sites, right? Maybe. Maybe not. Weather can be a factor. Parental engagement is always a factor. For example, unsupervised latchkey kids may not have the functional ability to watch the clock and get themselves to the serving site on time. What are the enrichment opportunities offered at these sites? Have students become bored? In addition, some sites may not be open all summer long—perhaps the church camp only runs only through mid-July or your own building can’t provide the necessary security and oversight to use the cafeteria after the summer school program has concluded. And, believe it or not, some families may have missed your kick-off event and the initial publicity around summer meals and not become aware of their availability until weeks later. These are just a few of the reasons why you need to keep marketing the availability of your summer meals program from launch to the last day of service. Don’t worry. You won’t need to brainstorm all of those marketing strategies on your own. This article will share some valuable strategies for keeping heightened participation throughout summer. (And maybe there are some tactics that you can apply to the regular school year, too!) ROOT FOR THE HOME TEAM In most cases, when we refer to grassroots action in a school nutrition context, we’re talking about legislative advocacy efforts, rallying those at the local level to create policy change at the state or national level. But a grassroots approach can be a valuable way to look at other endeavors in school nutrition, including your summer meal marketing efforts. Fundamentally, it’s important to realize you do not need to get the word out alone. Indeed, you shouldn’t. Everyone can get involved in ensuring that hungry kids don’t go without during the summer months. Turn to parents, colleagues, neighbors, community partners and the media for help. How can they help? Let us count the ways! Ask for volunteers to: » create and/or supervise enrichment activities at your summer sites. » help serve and transport meals (within regulatory restrictions for food handling, etc., of course). » participate in a designated canvassing day to distribute paper flyers to households, apartment complexes and businesses. » help post flyers and cards about summer meal availability anywhere they will attract notice (see the box on the right). » retweet or share social media posts summer meal availability; even if your social media circle doesn’t include a demographic eligible for summer meals, the algorithms of posting and sharing help these items to trend and get more extensive reach. » be an official—or unofficial—spokesperson about the value of summer meals, seizing opportunities to talk these up in front of different audiences. We’ll explore more details about several of these tactics below. IDENTIFY A CHAMPION A champion for your summer meals program can help to give your efforts a much-appreciated boost of authority. The best champions are those with a certain recognition factor. Suggestions include elected officials, a local celebrity (like an athlete, mascot, famous chef, etc.), a beloved community figure (such as a pastor, librarian or retailer). Don’t overlook school figures who children and parents look up to and respect, such as a principal, coach or teacher. Ask this individual to support your marketing efforts beyond your kickoff event. Request they sign on for specific activities at particular occasions throughout the summer. Perhaps that will mean pitching and granting interviews to a local radio or television station. Maybe it’s allowing you to promote their presence as a guest server at a specific site on a scheduled date. Grassroots Pursuit: Your champion is there to “champion” your summer meals. Their presence is an endorsement of your efforts and will help convey the importance of summer meals to parents and kids alike. Consider asking your champion to show continued support for other school meal programs. Breakfast and afterschool snacks/suppers would benefit from this kind of marketing boost. BE A SOCIAL BUTTERFLY As with all marketing, social media needs to be a part of your engagement planning. In vogue it may be, but social media is used by every segment and age group, so you cannot afford to skip it. A positive aspect is that different platforms can be used to reach different markets, so you do not need to juggle Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube for each and every promotion. That said, summer meals should be aimed at alerting parent stakeholders, unless you are doing a child-friendly incentive or contest. A great way to engage in this new-fangled age is to host a “Twitter Town Hall.” Increase awareness about your Summer Food Service Program by scheduling the topic and inviting your stakeholders to ask questions. Make sure to decide on a hashtag to accompany each post ahead of time (USDA recommends #SummerFoodRocks). You don’t have to be the only one fielding questions, either—feel free to ask some of your own! Develop a few key queries to pose to your audience to get their responses and their engagement. Make sure to stick to your agenda and Tweet back quickly. Don’t forget to thank those who participate and to follow-up the Town Hall with a post the next day on all your other channels. Make both questions and answers available in an e-blast so that, whatever the platform, all of your customers feel engaged and on the same page. Grassroots Pursuit: YouTube videos are a great way to reach your audience, in its entirety, giving others the onus to share your cause. If you have permission through the school district to publicize students’ faces through video or photos, consider recording your summer meals in action. THE MEDIA IS YOUR FRIEND If you used old-school media at the beginning of the summer—“old-school” being press releases or public service announcements (PSAs) as opposed to social media—don’t hesitate to reach out to these same connections with follow-up pieces. Most local news outlets love to cover summer meal programs at the start of the season, but you may have to get more creative to keep their attention as the weeks go on. Look for new angles on stories that might attract the interest of reporters. For example, pitch a story about unusual locations that school meals are being offered, such as rec centers and community pools. Do you have a food truck, bus or other vehicle that delivers meals? Offer a reporter a chance to ride along as it makes its stops. Will your recognized champion be acting as a guest server or offering enrichment activities at a site in midsummer? Be sure the media knows the schedule! Never be shy about touting all of the exceptional offerings you and your team have worked hard to develop. Grassroots Pursuit: Put your volunteers in the spotlight, too! Give them a chance to tell reporters why they support summer meal service and are devoting personal time to the cause. PAPER MOTIVATOR We know you want to be conservative with paper—and that’s an instinct we support in general! But when it comes to summer meal engagement, put aside a small budget of guilt-free paper (even less guilty if it’s recycled stock) to use for marketing your program. Make sure that you extend this paper budget to the farthest reaches of your creativity: » Create flyers with quotes from satisfied customers. » Make individual postcards to send via direct mail to those in your community. » Getting some new business cards? Take advantage! Advertise your summer meals program below your name and operation information. » Here is another opportunity for your champion to shine! Ask them to write a midsummer letter and mail it to families in need of summer feeding. » Use flyers with tear-off details about site locations and times. » Download customizable posters, flyers, bookmarks, business cards and more that are available from USDA, your state agency and advocacy organizations such as the No Kid Hungry campaign of Share Our Strength. Search for these on the Internet. Grassroots Pursuit: Hand out 10 advertisements (business cards are handiest here) each to willing parents or volunteers and ask them to literally pass along the word on summer meals. STUFF WE ALL GET “Swag,” an acronym everyone can get behind, stands for Stuff We All Get. And whether you’re a child, teen or adult, no one wants to miss an opportunity to snag their swag. The conclusion you should be drawing from this is not to have swag at every event, or even extraordinary swag—free pencils or even koosh-balls can be highly motivating when promoted correctly. » Advertise limited availability (“while supplies last”)—but be prepared to have enough on hand so your promotion doesn’t backfire in disappointment. » Only roll out your swag once or twice during the summer meal service period. Look back at production records from previous years to predict when it’s likely you’ll need to turn to this option. » Offering a series of swag is very popular. Give kids an opportunity to collect a “full set” of related items. This will compel them to come back multiple times so they don’t miss out! Similarly, consider contests with a big, valuable prize. School Nutrition was impressed by a recent Facebook announcement of a summer contest in Humboldt Unified (Ariz.) School District. Kids were invited to participate in an essay or art contest that explains “Why I Need a New Bike”—and how that bike will assist them with traveling to pick up their summer meal! It’s a great example of a promotion that hits multiple messages—and takes advantage of social media. The bike is being provided through a Dairy Council of Arizona Summer Food Service Grant. Grassroots Pursuit: Who else is offering grants to help boost summer meal participation? Make it your mission to identify sources of funding that can help you take your summer meals service to the next level, whether that’s funding a bike giveaway or a converted school bus. DREAM COME TRUE No matter how it is that you choose to push midsummer engagement—whether you use every sundry form of media, hand out swag, enlist volunteers or simply show up—the important message to get across is that you are available and assisting local families. Once the community realizes that they have a genuine stake in your Summer Food Service Program, they will be more likely to participate through the end of summer. Earn 1 CEU in the designated Key area and Key Topic Code noted above POST THIS! Where should you be displaying flyers, cards or other information about your summer meals program? You’ve probably thought of some obvious places, such as the community rec center or local library. But the list of good spots that will attract notice is actually much longer! • Libraries • Parks • Supermarkets • Recreation centers • Community pools • Doctors’ offices • Hospitals • Churches/synagogues/mosques • Homeless/domestic violence shelters • Bus stops • Major retailers (Walmart, Target, Kmart, etc.) • Popular fast food chains • Barber shops • Hair salons • Gas stations • Government services offices (ESL, adult literacy, vocational training, WIC, Medicaid, Social Services, Motor Vehicles) Rachel O’Connell is communications coordinator for School Nutrition. Editor Patricia Fitzgerald also contributed to this article. Art courtesy of the Sodexo Stop Hunger Foundation Summer Meals Outreach Toolkit made available by the No Kid Hungry campaign of Share Our Strength.
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