At libraries, community centers, pools, parks, and schools, children across Massachusetts are lining up this summer—not for a special event, but for something more essential: access to free meals.
These children are among the 400,000 across the Commonwealth—one in three public school students—who rely on school meals for nutrition during the school year. When summer comes around, they may not know where to turn for balanced meals, leading to learning loss and potential weight gain, putting low-income youth at a disadvantage compared to their peers when they head back to school in the fall. Breaking that cycle is the mission of Summer Eats, a program administered by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and optimized by Project Bread, with the support of Partners HealthCare and other community alliances. This year, the program has received a boost with a renewed, three-year Partners financial commitment to help expand its availability throughout the state.
“Now more kids and teens can access Summer Eats to get the healthy meals their development depends on,” says Erin McAleer, President, Project Bread. “We want all students in Massachusetts to return to school nourished and ready to learn in the fall. Partners HealthCare’s support of Project Bread and Summer Eats helps to make it possible.”
The renewed investment marks 10 years of Partners’ collaboration with Project Bread in support of the initiative, formerly known as the Massachusetts Summer Food Service Program. With the additional support, Project Bread has expanded efforts to reach more families with the goal of increasing participation by children in need of summer meals by 20 percent. The rebranded program has been publicized on billboards and in community settings such as libraries—where the goals of reducing summer learning loss are in line with Summer Eats’ mission.
The program is open to all children under 18 who need a USDA-balanced meal—many from families whose incomes sit just above the threshold for other state programs requiring documentation. The meal sites are searchable online at meals4kids.org, through the “Summer Eats” app, or by texting FOOD or COMIDA to 877-877. Communities often host small celebrations around the sites, helping to promote them to harder-to-reach populations such as teenagers, who may otherwise believe they’ve outgrown the program.
Summer Eats is an essential piece in solving the overall puzzle of food security, social environment, and their inexorable link to health.
“Children who experience food insecurity, and all of its bad consequences for their health and wellbeing, are most vulnerable during those times when school meals are unavailable,” says Ronald E. Kleinman, MD, Physician in Chief, MassGeneral Hospital for Children, Chair, Department of Pediatrics, Massachusetts General Hospital, and Board Chairman, Project Bread. “The support of Partners HealthCare and Massachusetts General Hospital is critical to this extremely important effort to provide children the food and nutrition they need to grow and be healthy—and Project Bread is very grateful for their commitment to this vital community benefit.”
To find a Summer Eats location near you:
• Call: Project Bread’s FoodSource hotline 800-645-8333
• Text: “Food” or “Comida” to 877-877
• Visit: www.meals4kids.org
• Download: “Summer Eats” app for iPhone or Android
No ID or Registration is required to participate in Summer Eats.
Read more about Summer Eats and the Project Bread program here.