How to find free summer meals for low-income families

Local News

School is out for summer, which usually means parents need to figure out how to keep their children occupied and fed during the hours normally spent in class.

During the school year, students are able to bring their own lunches, buy cafeteria food or get free or reduced lunch.

Summer camps might provide food for an extra cost or require parents to pack their child’s lunch, but not all families can afford it.

Every summer, the United States Department of Agriculture provides free meals to sponsors in low-income areas who participate in the Summer Food Service Program.

The East Tennessee Human Resource Agency is the overseeing government agency for the Summer Meals Program.

Rockford Friends, a cheaper summer camp alternative at Rockford Elementary, is one of the 150 summer programs in east Tennessee that provides free breakfast and lunch.

Teresa Spradlin, Rockford Friends program director, said Friends has been offering free lunch since the 1990s.

She said the USDA started providing free breakfast this year as well.

“It saves the parents money for lunches and time packing. The kids enjoy it and it’s a healthy meal,” Spradlin said.

She said parents don’t usually know that the program provides free meals.

How does someone find where free summer meals are offered? There are a few ways.

No Kid Hungry created a summer meals texting hotline to help locate the closest Summer Food Service Program.

To use the hotline, text ‘FOOD’ to 877-877. The person will then receive a text asking to reply with an address, city or ZIP code.

A minute later, the hotline texts back with the three nearest summer meals sites, their locations and contact information.

Spradlin said she didn’t know about the hotline, but though it was a good tool to use with one exception: Rockford Friends can offer a free meal to any child that walks in, but Spradlin doesn’t order a lot of extra meals. There’s a chance an extra meal would be available.

She also said that every Tuesday and Thursday they take the children to the swimming pool or on field trips, which means the meals wouldn’t be at the school.

Spradlin said the Summer Food Service Program has guidelines they must follow to participate.

One of those guidelines is picking up the food at a summer meal site within an hour before serving it.

She said her employees usually pick up the food at Eagleton Elementary School. She said the elementary school would be the better option for any person in the community to get free food for children.

Spradlin also said she knows of some summer programs that would like to participate with the Summer Meals Program, but can’t because the pickup sites are too far.

Another way for someone to find a Summer Food Service Program site is to visit the Summer Meals Program website here.

Spradlin said someone can always call her in advance and ask for a free meal if their child isn’t a part of Rockford Friends.

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