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Summer Food: FREE Meals For Local Kids

I grew up in a home where it was often impossible to make ends meet.  Food stamps and local food pantries were heavily relied on in my family.  Still, there were times that even that assistance wasn’t quite enough to get us through, and there were days, sometimes weeks, where there was very little to eat in our home.  It is a part of my childhood that is heavily ingrained in the very fiber of my being, something that I carry with me everyday.  It’s what first drew me to the Food Bank of Northern Nevada when I decided to return to work, and I believe it’s part of what makes me good at what I do in my daily role there.

Fifteen years after graduating high school, I can still vividly remember the added stress and uncertainty that would come with the end of the school year, when the free breakfast and lunch that I received at school also ended.  The reality of trying to squeeze an additional two meals each day into an already thinly stretched budget was extremely overwhelming for my mom.  Oftentimes, there simply wasn’t enough finagling that could be done with the budget to fill the void that was left by that missing piece of assistance.  Fortunately for me, there were often times people there who were willing and able to help.  A friend who always seemed to have an extra sandwich in her cooler when we all rode our bikes to the beach.  Another friend whose mom was coincidentally making my favorite meal for dinner almost every time I visited.

Summer LunchIn the Washoe County School District, more than 28,000 students qualify for free or reduced-price meals during the school year. That’s over 45% of the student population.  Even those families who typically wouldn’t identify themselves as food insecure can feel a great strain to their budget when summer arrives and brings with it the end of of those much-needed free or reduced school meals.  Fortunately, for these families, there are people and organizations who are willing (and able!) to help.  The USDA’s Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) is one of the ways in which families in our area are able to get help.

Each year, Food Bank of Northern Nevada, the City of Reno, and the Boys & Girls Club of Truckee Meadows partner together to bring SFSP to sites throughout Reno/Sparks.  This year, the program has expanded to 38 open sites.

So, what is SFSP and how does it work?

SFSP is a program designed to ensure that children continue to have access to nutritious meals when school is not in session.  Children can eat a FREE meal at any SFSP site every weekday (except for July 4th), all summer long.  All sites serve lunch, and there are seven sites that also serve breakfast.

Do I qualify for SFSP?

The beauty of this program is that the ONLY qualification is that you must be a child or teen between the ages of 1-18 years old (sorry, adults are not eligible for this program).  That’s it.  There’s no paperwork to fill out.  No names are taken.  Children don’t have to be enrolled in any program that may be taking place at the site, and they aren’t required to participate in any activities provided during the meal service time.

Is that really the only rule?

Well, no.  There are a couple other simple rules that the USDA requires all SFSP sponsors to enforce.

  • Meals must be eaten onsite.
  • Only complete meals can be served.  That means that every child must take the entree, fruit, veggie and milk.  Children are encouraged to try all items but will never be forced to eat any meal component.

How can I find a SFSP site near me?

This map lists every SFSP site in the Reno/Sparks area.  You can also download a flyer with the complete list.

How can I get involved?

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The Food Bank’s SFSP truck loads up for another day of serving free meals.

Volunteers are greatly appreciated at any of the Food Bank’s SFSP sites – some sites serve as many as 300 meals a day!  As you might imagine, having extra people on hand can be extremely helpful at these sites.  Volunteers help our staff to keep lines orderly, explain the rules of the program, and help ensure that the children clean up after themselves.  If you’d like to volunteer with the SFSP program or would like general information about volunteering or making donations to Food Bank of Northern Nevada, please call 775-331-3663.

This past Wednesday, as many of our area schools rang the final bell of the school year, some of my co-workers and I gathered at Donner Springs Elementary for our Summer Food Kickoff, handing out bags of fresh fruit, back packs, and fliers to the students as they headed off to their summer break.  As one little boy excitedly walked away with his goodies, we heard him exclaim “This is the best summer EVER!”  And, really, it is as simple, and as complex, as that.  For the children and families in our community who face food insecurity, the promise of a nutritious meal all throughout the summer, and the stress that promise can help to alleviate, can go a long way in helping them to have the best summer ever.

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About Aramelle Wheeler

Aramelle Wheeler is midwestern girl at heart, hailing from Minnesota. Love brought Aramelle to the Reno area after she met a boy online. Nearly a decade later, she still claims to be “new to the area,” but has come to truly love the city that is now her home. She married that boy from the Internet, and together they are raising a spunky, rambunctious three-year old little boy, their miracle baby after a two year infertility fight. After more than two years as a stay-at-home-mom, Aramelle went back to work full-time shortly before her son’s third birthday. Working for a local non-profit organization, she loves her job but looks forward to a time when life can feel a little more balanced than the transition has. She often finds herself wondering whatever happened to the robot maids The Jetsons once promised us. Aramelle spends a lot of her free time with her camera in hand, clicking away snapshots of the life that’s unfolding around her, despite her son’s protests. She and her family enjoy exploring the Reno area in search of new, fun things to experience together. Aramelle loves to write and finds blogging at “One Wheeler’s World” to be a great therapeutic outlet. She also enjoys cooking, watches too much reality TV, and spends far too much time online. Follow along with her on Facebook and Twitter.

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