Only a fraction of the children who receive free or reduced-price school lunches are reached by the summer meals program. With summer on the horizon and this alarming gap in mind, Nutritional Development Services (NDS) was happy to host a recent meeting of local Summer Meal sponsors, Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) administrators, University of Pennsylvania’s Fox Leadership Executive Director, and Ms. Audrey Rowe, Administrator of Food and Nutrition Services for the United States Department of Agriculture.
Sponsors, including NDS, the Philadelphia Department of Parks and Recreation, and the School District of Philadelphia, shared information about the number of children being served and the challenges to engage children during summer break. Sponsors agree that the meals must be healthy but child-friendly and should be part of a comprehensive wellness effort that involves many partners.
Sponsors and PDE administrators praised groups like the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger, which has assisted in linking families with nearby summer meal programs. Families can locate the nearest summer meals site by calling the toll-free Philly Summer Meals Hotline: 1-855-252-MEAL (6325) or by texting “MEALPA” to 877877.
United States Department of Housing and Urban Development representative David Marable expressed his concern and willingness to assist in getting the word out about summer meals. Ms. Rowe has been visiting states across the country to determine Summer Meals “best practices” and is very committed to removing barriers that prevent children from accessing summer meals.
It truly does take a whole village to keep children healthy, and federal, state, local, and faith based groups in Philadelphia are all a part of the solution.