By Ramona du Houx
Full Plates Full Potential disclosed that 1,421,533 summer meals were served to Maine kids – which is over a 200 percent increase compared to last summer. These staggering results are in part due to the USDA leniences granted to the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) to address feeding children safely during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The program traditionally provides access to free meals to any child 18 years old and younger in certain eligible high-need areas and require that children consume their meals on site.
This summer, the USDA waived these requirements, among others, which allowed summer meal sites to deliver meals, offer multiple or bulk meals at once, and expanded the reach of the program into communities that would normally not be eligible to operate a summer meal program. These flexibilities drastically increased access to meals by removing barriers and essentially allowed any community to provide free meals to all children 18 years and younger.
“The results at summer sites show what can happen when the USDA becomes a full partner to kids and families,” said Anna Korsen who serves as the organizations director of advocacy and community partnerships. “These flexibilities are key because participation in summertime meal programs are challenging when kids are out of school and getting to summer sites is a hardship for most. Thankfully, the USDA removed the barriers for kids this summer and we urge them to make these changes permanent.”
The unprecedented summer meal results were accomplished by the amazing work of summer site food directors, their staff, and volunteers. These hunger heroes used resourcefulness and innovation to serve nutritious meals safely during a pandemic, and some were operating new programs in communities where there were previously none.. This summer for the first time, Maine kids had broad access to summer meals across the state..
“Summer meal teams are essential workers and their programs are full of hunger heros,” said Justin Alfond, Director of Full Plates Full Potential. “More kids and families were struggling this summer due to the pandemic, and summer meal sites became one of their best lifelines to nutritious breakfast and lunch meals daily.”
The 1.4 million meals served were the most summer meals the state has ever served in its history, and yet too many kids still lacked access to meals. Maine had the potential to serve 17,440,000 meals this summer, putting our statewide participation rate to just over 8%. These numbers make Full Plates and all of our partners realize how much more work still needs to be done to help Maine kids experiencing hunger.
At least 80,000 Maine children struggle with hunger and because of the financial ramifications of the coronavirus pandemic.The need has risen rapidly since March. In fact, a recent report by Feeding America estimates that child food insecurity in Maine will increase by 40% statewide this year due to economic hardships resulting from the COVID-19 crisis. The essential nature of school meals gained tremendous public awareness and summer meals are a continuation of these efforts providing access to proper nutrition during the summer months.
While awareness of and need for these meals has skyrocketed, so too have expenses related to summer meal service under pandemic-related protocols. “Full Plates is so grateful to our donors who together raised over $415,000 to support 76 summersites,” said Alfond. “Our donors made up of Maine businesses, foundations, major gifts, and donations made by everyday Mainers made a huge difference to so many of our kids and neighbors in need.”
About Full Plates Full Potential
Full Plates Full Potential is on a mission to end child hunger in Maine by maximizing participation in federal child nutrition programs. We partner with nonprofit advocates, local businesses and restaurants, advocating for policy changes at the state level, granting funds and providing technical assistance to schools. Founded in 2014, the organization hosts year-round events and fundraisers, and invites Maine businesses to the FEED KIDS cause marketing initiative. Learn more at fullplates.org.
Maine Child Hunger Statistics for 2019/2020 Academic Year:
- 179,000 total student population
- At least 43% of students qualify for free and reduced school meals
- At least 80,000 students qualify for free and reduced school meals
- This summer, Full Plates has awarded $413,500 of funds to 76 summer food programs.