During the school year, many Minnesota families depend on free or reduced-price meals their children get at school to provide the nourishment they need. When school is out for the summer, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) summer food service program (SFSP) can provide funding for meals for children to bridge the “nutrition gap” during the summer months.

The Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) encourages eligible schools and organizations to sponsor the SFSP and provide free meals to Minnesota children ages 18 and under when school is out for the summer.

There are many low-income areas in Minnesota underserved and in need of a sponsor to operate a summer feeding site, especially in rural Minnesota.

MDE provides sponsors with training, on-site technical assistance and meal reimbursement for providing eligible meals.

“Nutrition is one key to academic success,” said Mary Cathryn Ricker MDE commissioner. “The summer food service program provides our students the opportunity to come together in locations across the state for lunch, often paired with fun summer learning opportunities. I’m grateful for a state full of community partners who work with us in the summer food service program to serve meals to our students over the summer so they return to school in the fall ready to learn.”

Program sites are often located at local schools, recreation and community centers, parks, family housing complexes and other locations operated by youth, cultural and faith-based organizations. Last summer in Minnesota, more than 200 schools and organizations operated almost 1,000 SFSP meal sites and served more than 3.6 million meals to children ages 18 and under.

The summer meals program reaches about 19 percent of children from low-income families who normally receive free or reduced-price meals during the school year. MDE is looking to continue growing the program so all eligible children have access to meals over the summer.

Those who are interested in being a new sponsor are encouraged to complete the SFSP interest survey by April 1 or contact MDE food and nutrition service.

More information about the program is available on the MDE Web site as well as the USDA summer food service program Web site at www.usda.gov.

A sponsor must be one of the following:

• A public or non-profit private school food authority.

• A public or non-profit private residential summer camp.

• A unit of local, city, county or state government.

• A public or non-profit private college or university.

• Any other type of private non-profit organization.

Kids up to age 18 can show up without prior sign-up for free meals at open site locations.

Learn more about “Summer Eats Minnesota” and promotional materials at www.summereatsmn.org.

For more information, contact MDE at 1-800-366-8922 (toll-free), mde.fns@state.mn.us or visit www.mde.state.mn.us.

- Photo courtesy of the USDA Web site.