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Taking a Team Approach to Summer Feeding

Summer is one of the hungriest times of the year for students who rely on school meals but don’t know where to turn for help when school is not in session. Thankfully, more communities are coming together and finding ways to deliver food to kids in need during the summer months.

“Just because school’s out for summer, the need to feed hungry children does not go on vacation,” said Danielle Benson, associate channel manager for General Mills Foodservice. “As many of our school partners look to implement summer feeding programs, we want to showcase an organization that has made strides to fill the gap in summer feeding in their community and is an inspiration to others.”

Connecting Kids To Meals is Northwest Ohio’s leading hunger-relief charity, providing more than 5,000 hot, nutritious meals each day at 105 different locations during the summer. As part of the Summer Food Service Program, the meals are free and often exceed the nutritional requirements required by the summer meal program. Formerly known as Feed Lucas County Children, the nonprofit recently underwent a rebranding to better reflect the organization’s deep commitment to reaching and feeding more kids. Wendi Huntley, CEO of Connecting Kids To Meals, said that “childhood hunger doesn’t discriminate and isn’t happening in just one location.”

Since 2002, the organization has served children and families living at or below the poverty line in Lucas County. Having served more than 5 million meals, its efforts now span an even greater geographical footprint and include more ways to feed the hungry. From an afterschool program that provides 1,000 meals a day during the academic year to breaking ground on a new state-of-the-art kitchen, Connecting Kids To Meals is helping to feed those in need and improve their lives.

Huntley said the area summer feeding program has been successful at reaching so many kids because of a recent collaboration effort: Summer Meal Partners of Northwest Ohio. More than 30 partners from the community, including the City of Toledo, area school districts, sponsors, community centers, churches and corporate partners, meet once a month throughout the year to continually assess barriers to success, outline plans and offer solutions.

“Strength lies in numbers, we are able to accomplish much more by working alongside each other and pooling resources to come up with community-wide solutions,” said Huntley.

For example, this group implemented a mobile shelter program where meals were brought into high-need residential areas for kids in partnership with two local school districts. Summer meal partners have also been instrumental in getting the word out to families in need—one of the biggest challenges for summer feeding programs.

With the support of partners, the summer feeding program is promoted in the local transportation system, on yard signs, through the area school districts’ various communication channels and via local media coverage.

Huntley added, “you don’t even realize the value added, or the possibilities, until you work alongside others in the trenches. It is at that point when innovative strategies are birthed to address this problem and have the greatest chance for success.”

A summary of tips and lessons learned from Huntley and Connecting Kids To Meals:

  • Identify partners in your community to support your efforts to feed kids in need.
  • Be open to feedback and ongoing dialogue to find community-wide solutions.
  • Simplify the message and pool resources to get the word out about your program, overcome logistical barriers such as meal delivery and leverage relationships.
  • Keep kids in mind when planning menus. Survey them on what they like to eat. Also consider how to educate kids on healthier items they may not have been exposed to before.