For many kids and families in the St. Louis region, summer is often anything but a vacation. Instead of a relaxing break to explore new interests and places, it’s often a time when many struggle to afford nutritious food to eat––especially children who rely on free and reduced-price school meals. When school is out, kids are more at-risk for hunger and obesity. Nearly 173,000 children in our bi-state region bear the burden of food insecurity.
The Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), funded by the USDA, ensures that children continue to receive nutritious meals when school is not in session. Operation Food Search, a SFSP Sponsor, is connecting thousands of children 18 years and younger to food while they enjoy fun activities that stimulate their minds.
Our Summer Meals Program––now in its 5th summer––has grown substantially. In 2012, OFS sponsored SFSP at a single location, serving 5,000 meals to children. Last year we served nearly 100,000 meals at a combination of stationary and mobile sites throughout the St. Louis region. The introduction of the mobile meals concept (vans that bring the food to select neighborhood sites) proved successful in breaking down transportation barriers and increased access to healthy food. As a result, child participation at OFS-sponsored sites grew by 40% over summer 2015. This year the mobile meal vans will expand from 16 locations to a total of 33.
New collaborations and extended services include:
- OFS will team up with 20 AmeriCorps leaders who are part of the Corporation for National and Community Service, a federal agency that helps millions of Americans improve the lives of their fellow citizens through service. Along with meal service, AmeriCorps volunteers will provide educational interaction and entertaining activities.
- The St. Louis Public Library – which has five locations – will now feature the OFS mobile route service at the following branch locations: Carpenter, Carondelet, Central, Divoll, and Walnut Park. OFS has offered the stationary option at several St. Louis County Libraries since 2014 and will continue this year.
- St. Louis Community Credit Union – which has three of its 15 locations for distribution sites – will now feature OFS mobile route service at the following branches: Gateway (Union and Natural Bridge), Pagedale (24:1 Wealth Accumulation Center), and Benton Park (South City Wealth Accumulation Center).
- Community pop-up pantries, which will be held on five Fridays throughout the summer, will provide shelf-stable food, fresh fruits and vegetables, and on-site cooking demonstrations. The pop-up pantries will be located on the existing mobile routes to ensure access to healthy food over the weekend.