Last year, nearly 1 million North Carolina public school students were eligible to receive free or reduced priced meals through the National School Lunch Program. Out of that million, however, less than 120,000 actually received meals, due to a lack of sponsored sites that give out the meals during the summer.
North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) School Nutrition Services Section Chief Lynn Harvey said, “Summer break should be an enjoyable time for students. Unfortunately, that may not be the case for many students because they may be hungry and unaware that there are summer programs that could provide them with nutritious, appealing meals.”
NCDPI Summer Nutrition Program Manager Cynthia Ervin said the large percentage of students who may need summer meal options is one reason why it is critical for the department to partner with organizations across the state to expand the number of summer meal sites.
One of the department’s most important summer collaborations to help meet this need is the Summer Nutrition Program, which provides appealing meals to students in their communities. The Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and Seamless Summer Option were established by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to ensure economically disadvantaged children continue to receive nutritious meals when school is out.
Additionally, the USDA has identified 46 counties in North Carolina as high priority or “Strike Force” counties (look under Program Promotion, Outreach and Events to access list). The Strike Force campaign is intended to leverage local partnerships in high poverty and rural areas to ensure children have equal access to summer nutrition programs. In 2016, North Carolina had 168 sponsoring agencies and 3,227 summer nutrition sites where children could receive nutritious meals at no cost. Harvey said that although this is a good start, the need for summer nutrition sponsoring agencies and sites is at an all-time high.
In addition to public school districts, the SFSP allows qualifying public and private non-profit organizations to participate as a sponsor and receive federal reimbursement as long as the meals are served to eligible children 18 years of age or younger at an approved site. A site may be an open site; closed, enrolled site; or camp. The meals served at all sites must be provided at no charge to all children regardless of race, color, national origin, sex, age or disability.
To learn how your organization may become involved, please visit the Summer Food Service Program website or contact NCDPI Summer School Nutrition Program Manager Cynthia Ervin or 919.807.3505.