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Food That’s In When School is Out

On a sunny July afternoon, a long line of students, ranging in ages from 4-18, listened eagerly as Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and representatives from USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) and Boston Public School System kicked off the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). Cafeteria staff from Lila Frederick School in Dorchester, Mass. cooked and served a BBQ lunch for about 100 eligible SFSP students from the local neighborhood. On the menu: turkey hot dogs, grilled chicken, corn on the cob, fresh slices of watermelon, grape juice and fat free milk.

While students enjoyed hearing from guest speakers and munching on a healthy lunch, they also played a Wheel of Fortune-style game, where they could spin the wheel to answer questions about their favorite fruits and vegetables. Students also learned about nutrition from USDA’s Power Panther and representatives from Boston Public School’s Farm to School Program. The Power Panther is a part of the Eat Smart. Play Hard. Campaign, which aims to encourage and teach children, parents and caregivers about eating balanced meals and being active every day.

Mayor Menino and Miranda Evelyn Miranda, FNS Public Affairs Director, stressed the importance of the Summer Food Service Program, which nationally serves about 3.3 million students throughout the summer vacation, and the growing role of technology in connecting individuals with information about nutrition programs.

The State of Massachusetts’ Child Nutrition Outreach Program has made technology a part of SFSP by creating two unique and innovative programs to promote the summer food service sites in Massachusetts. Their Text 4 Food program allows individuals to text (617) 863-MEAL for confidential information about the nearest free summer meal location and the interactive online map shows all of the site locations in local communities.

Throughout the city of Boston, there are 141 SFSP sites, 122 of which are open sites. An open site is one that meets FNS eligibility criteria to provide free meals to all children in the neighborhood on a first-come, first-serve basis. The Summer Food Service Program is targeted to low-income areas where 50 percent or more of the students are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals.

Parents, educators, elected officials, childcare providers, community and faith-based leaders, and First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative are all working to improve the health of our nation’s children by helping to increase access to healthy, affordable food.  If you are interested in getting involved by becoming a meal site sponsor or want more information on the Summer Food Service Program, contact your State agency. To find out where your child can participate, you can call the National Hunger Hotline at 1-866-348-6479 or contact your State agency.