Children’s nutritional needs do not take a summer break. This summer, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service partnered with the Texas Department of Agriculture and Baylor University’s Texas Hunger Initiative to help keep Texas children in several low-income rural areas fed during the summer through a summer meals demonstration project.
The USDA-Baylor summer meals demonstration project, called Meals-to-You, was launched this summer in five counties – Henderson, Leon, Concho, Kimble and Upton Counties – covering 20 school districts in Texas where traditional congregate summer meals programs were either not offered or not accessible for all or part of the summer.
Through the Meals-to-You demonstration project, meals were mailed directly to the residences of consenting families for students who are eligible for free-or reduced-price meals. Each eligible child received a weekly box, which contained five breakfast meals, five snacks and five lunches/suppers. These boxes included quality items and were intended to supplement family food resources throughout the summer.
Today, I visited Eustace, Texas, in Henderson County, and met with families, school officials and community leaders to discuss how the meals helped supplement their children this summer. As I sat in the Eustace Primary School cafeteria, one-by-one parents shared stories of the challenges they have faced in the past when it comes to providing meals for their children during the summer.
Julie Estes, a Eustace teacher and mother of six children, shared how the program helped cut her grocery bill in half. She typically spends an average of $1,200 a month, but this summer she only spent about $600 a month because the Meals-to-You program offset her average grocery budget.
While Eustace ISD has offered the summer feeding program for the past several years, the biggest obstacle for their parents and students is transportation to the cafeteria. Some of the transportation barriers include living more than 50 miles away from the school, driving a car with no air conditioning across town or coordinating transportation for someone to pick-up and drive their children to the local school to get a meal.
This summer was different in Eustace, and for some it felt more like the holidays, where UPS drivers delivered the boxes of food directly to the participants’ door. Eustace Child Nutrition Director Carolyn Davis was instrumental in promoting the program and shared how it even helped her family. She has eight grandchildren and each one of them received a box every week. She said for her grandchildren it was “like Christmas” when the boxes arrived and each child grabbed a box to claim as their own.
When asked was it difficult to sign up for the program, Jamie Garver, a Eustace parent, shared it wasn’t difficult at all and she took on the role of helping other families register for the program by sharing the registration link, visiting homes to help families fill out the application online, and she even allowed families without Internet to use her personal phone to register for the program.
As the meeting came to a close, I took a moment to look around the cafeteria to take it all in and saw teachers, the mayor, the chief of police, a local pastor, members of the school board and parents. It truly was a visual demonstration of how we all play a role in supporting our rural communities. It was also apparent that we must continue to implement innovative summer food strategies like Meals-to-You to help families ensure their children have nutritious food to eat during the summer months.
This year marks the 50th Anniversary of the Food and Nutrition Service, and while our programs have evolved over the years, we know there is still more work to be done. And together we can do it one life, one person, one meal at a time.
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I had an opportunity to learn about the Meals to You program at the Hunger and Poverty Summit at Baylor university at the beginning of the month. Thank you - for trying something new! I believe in this program and I do hope it is immensely successful and can be expanded after the pilot - maybe even in the places where it is less "rural" such as Freeport, TX., where I run the backpack program for our local food pantry - Brazosport Cares. We do have summer feeding programs, however there are still challenges for our kids here. Finding a location and getting safely to the summer feedings is often so difficult - needing to stay at home to watch younger siblings while a parent is working, lack of public transportation, no sidewalks or safe places to bike (if you have one or can take it out in 90 degrees at 90% humidity) all create challenges for keeping the attendance at these programs as high as it could be. So BRAVO!
There is such strength in public-private relationships - and the speed at which this one came together was, well, fantastic. Congratulations to all of the team and your partners at Baylor, the school district and McLane Global.
This program has the potential to do so much good. I pray everyday that all kids (and families!!) will have access to such a program in the future. If for some reason it is not moved from a pilot to full implementation, we will have an opportunity to learn from the pilot and continue to generate and pilot other ways to ensure we keep kids healthy and fed during the summer months.
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@Deborah Allen - thank you for your interest in the Meals-to-You demonstration project, and for your hard work feeding children in your community. It is always inspiring to hear about programs such as yours that give back to the community and support children in need. We share your excitement about the Meals-to-You project, and its potential to reach children who are difficult to serve through other summer programs. The Meals-to-You project will continue to serve select low-income children through summer 2021. During the three years of this project, we look forward to learning ways to improve how we serve children in the summer. USDA and the Urban Institute are partnering on a study looking at its impact on children’s nutrition, and how the project operates best. USDA intends to report the conclusions of that study to Congress so that they have information to make decisions about the future of Federal summer meal programs. USDA is committed to ensuring access to healthy and safe food for those participating in our programs, because no child should have to go hungry.
At this time, the Meals-to-You project remains a demonstration that is operating on a limited scale. If you want to do more to help your community, we recommend contacting the State agency that administers child nutrition programs in your State to learn about other ways to get involved. You can find State agency contact information on the FNS website: www.fns.usda.gov/contacts