During the 2012 school year, over 30 million kids participated in the National School Lunch Program. Once summer vacation begins these children could go without. Fortunately, there is a solution, the free meal program.
Financial need is not a requirement for kids to participate, a free lunch is available to any child 18 years or younger. For those dependent upon the free or reduced lunch plan during the school year, it is a necessity. These kids’ parents worry that the same monies they spend on meals between September and June will not be adequate to include healthy mid-day meals in the summer.
In the U.S. “all across the country, schools and community groups run summer meals sites where kids can eat breakfast and lunch – absolutely free. The programs are intended to fill the gap for children who benefit from school breakfast and lunch programs during the rest of the year,” according to a report on PR Newswire.
How to Discover Free Lunch Locations
Apparently, a Facebook user posted the number a person could text to find the free lunches in their area but many questioned its validity. The post went viral and the searches for the program jumped dramatically.
Yes, skeptics, it is true. There is a free lunch program.
The No Kid Hungry program teamed up with the USDA and launched the hotline that uses text messages as the communication tool. Texting either “FOOD” or “COMIDA” to 877-877 will garner a response in English or Spanish based on the message sent.
Derrick Lambert, a No Kid Hungry spokesperson, explains the process:
- Send the text;
- Input either an address or zip code when prompted;
- Receive up to three locations and times of nearby free lunch programs.
Another way to find a free lunch is on the USDA website. It has a user-friendly tool specifically designed to help people find these programs. On the Summer Meal Finder, in four easy steps, a user can locate a meal site near them. The site is live beginning in May of each year and is updated throughout the summer break.
Google Search is, yet, another tool for finding a free lunch. For example, when searching for information about locations in Portland, Oregon several come up.
- Hunger-Free Oregon is one site. It lists over 600 sites where families can find a free lunch for their child. Also found on the site is a link to aid one with locating other nutritional resources and assistance.
- Another, the City of Portland Parks and Recreation with their Free Lunch + Play program. Here are listings for hundreds of parks and locations where a free lunch and organized activities are provided. For example, at the Lent Park in Southeast Portland, the activity program runs Monday-Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. with lunch at noon.
Free Lunch Programs Are Not Free to Run
Who foots the bill for these free lunches? There are numerous non-profit agencies involved, both on the state and federal levels. Still, that is not enough, manpower and financial assistance are needed as well.
Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon indicate that manpower can be given in the form of volunteering. A person who wants to help the free lunch program, in this manner, can go to a meal site in their area and apply. Some of the tasks one might be asked to provide are assisting in the distribution of the meals, organizing or leading activities, and passing out flyers around town.
Individuals, businesses, and organizations are welcome to donate money. In 2013, Hunger-Free Oregon reported that donations assisted them in providing grants for 17 organizations. That summer, over 64,000 free lunches were distributed.
Most every state has non-profits that work with local municipalities and the USDA to provide free lunches every summer. Finding one is as simple as searching the internet or sending a text.
The sites reviewed indicate the easiest way to assure that kids do not go hungry is to spread the word. Sharing the text message number, handing out fliers, sharing links for the locator sites, or simply telling a neighbor about the annual free lunch program may make the difference between a child going to bed hungry or having at least one meal that day.
By Cathy Milne
PR Newswire: Can Kids Really Get Free Meals Just by Sending a Text Message?
USDA Food and Nutrition Service: Find Summer Meals in Your Community
Summer Meals – Nourishing Oregon’s Kids: How to Help
Summer Meals – Nourishing Oregon’s Kids: Free Summer Meals in Oregon
The City of Portland Oregon: Parks & Recreation; Free Lunch + Play
Featured and Top Image Courtesy of Wokandapix’s Pixabay Page – Public Domain License