What you need to know about summer meal sites

Summer is officially here! For some, the end of the school year introduces challenges around a new routine – especially when it comes to summer meals. As the rates of food insecurity grow in our community, so do the number of school-age children affected.

This week, summer meal sites will began to open in the Des Moines metro and across the nation, providing a regular and reliable place for a free lunch (and sometimes breakfast) for school age children.

What is a Summer Meal Site?

Summer meal sites (also known as SUN Meals), offer kids of all ages meals and snacks during the summer at no cost at schools, parks, and other neighborhood locations.  These are most commonly open and congregate meal sites operated by local school districts and community organizations at schools, parks and housing complexes. They are funded by the host sites and funds from the USDA Summer Food Service Program and Seamless Summer Option.

Each site is operated on a slightly different schedule and hours vary. Sites started operating on June 3and will run as far as August 16, 2024.

Why does it matter?

Access to summer nutrition programs like summer meals are vital to families during the summer. Did you know that over 1 in 3 of everyone assisted by the DMARC Food Pantry Network in 2023 was 0-17 years old? That accounts for about 11k kids just last month. Research shows that hunger and food insecurity during summer months can put kids at a serious disadvantage by contributing to learning loss, compromising physical and mental health, and negatively affecting children’s ability to thrive.

Where can I find summer meals?

Know before you go…

  • Most sites require students to eat the meal on-site.
  • If parents or caregivers are present, in almost all cases they are not provided a meal, or must pay for it themselves.
  • Hours and days of operation can vary greatly from site to site. Be sure to 2x check before you go.
  • Many sites operate June through August, but others are only available for a single month during the summer.

Summer Meals Expansion Grant (and what it means for you).

Last December, the state of Iowa announced it would not be participating in Summer EBT, and would instead be exploring options to expand existing programs. The Summer Meal Program Expansion Grant Program was subsequently announced on April 10, 2024 and 38 school districts and host organizations were awarded a total of $900,000 to launch 61 new meal sites across the state this summer.

However, Even with the expansion grant, 176 of 327 public school districts in Iowa (54%) are not expected to have a summer meal site available in 2024.

Here in the Des Moines Metro, it’s anticipated there will be a net loss of open congregate meal sites this summer compared to last year.

Summer EBT, also now known as SUN Bucks, is a federal childhood nutrition program that provides $40 in monthly nutrition benefits during the summer to children who qualify for free and reduced-price school meals. The program is intended to complement, not replace, other USDA child nutrition programs like Summer meal sites.

245,000 children in Iowa would have benefitted from Summer EBT had the state chosen to participate in the program through a federal investment of $29 million in benefit amounts. It would have cost the state about $9 per child to provide them with $120 in nutrition benefits.

In 2023, the average daily attendance at summer meal sites in Iowa was 21,557, reaching less than 10% of students who qualified for free and reduced price school meals.

This is already showing signs of an impact at the food pantry level. Just a couple days after the close of the 2024 school year, The Des Moines Area Religious Council (DMARC) Food Pantry Network assisted 2,080 unique individuals on Tuesday, Jun. 4, 2024 setting a single-day record of people assisted.

What can I do about it?

An important deadline is approaching in August for Iowa to apply to participate in 2025 Sun Bucks (Summer EBT). Share your story as to how having access to more funds for your household would make a difference this summer. Let your legislator know that this still matters to you.

No Replies to "What you need to know about summer meal sites"

    Got something to say?

    Some html is OK