USDA Expands $500 Million Summer Meals Programs to Sites Outside of School

By Penny Starr | June 18, 2015 | 2:57pm EDT
In this photo taken July 15, 2013, a child exits a bus decorated with a cartoon frog that serves as a mobile lunch vehicle in Federal Way, Wash. (AP Photo)

( – The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the expansion of its summer meal programs beyond the $500 million of taxpayer dollars used to pay for last year’s effort, with a goal of serving an unprecedented 200 million meals to “children” 18 or younger, not only on school campuses, but at other sites, including at home.

"We are deeply committed to ensuring that all Americans, in rural and urban areas, have access to a healthy diet whether at home or at school," Under Secretary of Agriculture Kevin Concannon said in a press release issued by USDA last month. "These public-private partnerships are key to galvanizing interest in combating hunger.

“We need more community partners to serve as sponsors or to help run sites where young people can easily go for a healthy meal or snack, as well as for physical and enrichment activities,” Concannon said.

Only 3.8 million of the more than 21 million low-income children eligible for a free or reduced priced meal took part in last year’s summer food program, according to the agency.

A USDA organizational chart shows that the federal government will serve breakfast and lunch to children at “schools, camps, churches, community centers, housing projects, libraries, migrant centers, parks, playgrounds, pools, and other public sites where children gather.”

Thirteen states were selected this year to receive “intensive technical assistance to expand the reach of the summer meal programs” – West Virginia, Alabama, Illinois, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, Texas, Arizona, Kansas, Michigan, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky – because of “high levels of rural and urban food.

In Murfreesboro, Tenn., school buses are bringing food to children, according to an article published on the National Public Radio website.

“The words CHOW bus have replaced the school bus sign over the windshield,” the NPR article states. “It's blue and green with a food-themed mural on the side.

“Inside, some seats have been replaced with tables,” the article states. “And the bus is air conditioned so kids don't have to sweat through their Lucky Charms and chocolate milk.

“Yes, that's considered a nutritious breakfast by the USDA,” the article states.

NPR interviewed Erica Swain, who sent her son and nephew to eat on the bus.

"When your kids are in school, you don't really have to worry about feeding them at home during the day," Swain said. "So that adds on a bunch of money in the summertime."

NPR also reported that there are “no questions asked” about eligibility when a child or children show up at the bus.

“Kids still need good food, even when school is out,” a USDA fact sheet on the program’s expansion states. “Now it’s easy to accommodate them!

“You can apply to operate the Seamless Summer Option through the National School Lunch (NSLP) or School Breakfast Programs (SBP),” the fact sheet states. “Continue the same meal service rules and claiming procedures used during the regular school year.

“Although the traditional Summer Food Service Program is still available to schools, the Seamless Summer Option offers a streamlined approach to feeding hungry children in your community,” the fact sheet states.

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