“We have children on Monday tell us they haven’t eaten since Friday afternoon,” said Meredith Honeycutt, the School Nutrition administrative assistant for Rowan-Salisbury Schools.
Last summer, Honeycutt and her team worked to bring nutritious summer meals to thousands of students across their district through mobile meals sites, breaking down the transportation barrier and filling the crucial nutrition gap that occurs when school is no longer in session.
This summer, they added a new pilot program: weekend backpacks filled with food to make sure students have enough to eat on the weekends when summer meals are not served.
Rowan-Salisbury Schools: Addressing Transportation Barriers and Weekend Food
With six trucks, four vans, four buses, two cars and a large catering truck, Rowan-Salisbury School Nutrition Services brings hot meals directly to the communities that need them most. On the first day of summer meals programming, 24,000 lunches were served from all of these vehicles combined, breaking down the transportation barrier one bite at a time.
To emphasize support from local school officials, teachers, principals, and other school staff members will be following these mobile food trucks around to connect with the children on-site. Honeycutt believes that when school employees interact with the children, encourage them in their studies and show a vested interest in their well being, student outcomes will improve during the school year.
“The more buy-in you have from your system, the better your programs will be,” Honeycutt said.
Beyond mobile meals sites, Rowan-Salisbury Schools has launched a pilot program this summer at four sites to provide food to students on the weekends when summer meals sites are not operating.
After identifying four sites across the school district, students already participating in the school lunch program were given information about the weekend bags. Seventy-five students responded indicating a desire to receive them. With the help of nonprofit partners that are providing funding and volunteers for this program, the students will be handed a bag of healthy food to eat over the weekend each Friday at their summer meals site while they are eating lunch.
Although the weekend bags are only a pilot program this summer, Honeycutt is optimistic about the potential of these efforts to expand in the future.
Summer Meals Kickoff with First Lady Cooper
Last month, at the Deep River Parks and Recreation Center in High Point, North Carolina, First Lady of North Carolina Kristin Cooper along with No Kid Hungry, the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction and the Southeast United Dairy Industry Association hosted a high-energy kick off of the summer meals program.
Dr. Lynn Harvey, chief of North Carolina’s child nutrition services, discussed the critical role that the summer meals program plays in providing students with the energy they need throughout the summer by offering healthy breakfast, lunch and snacks at thousands of sites across the state.
Harvey expanded on the importance of summer meals, noting that they fit perfectly into the “whole child” model – or recognizing that a student’s success is tied to comprehensive health and wellbeing. To Harvey, the importance of a child’s nutrition does not stop when the last bell rings – it is crucial 365 days of the year.
“At the end of the day, the most important thing is the child. We want to give these students what they need to be healthy, safe and well-nourished,” Harvey said.
Although the food at all summer meals sites meets the same nutritional standards, the scene of every site can look different depending on the sponsor what enrichment activities are offered. The summer meals kickoff event included a cooking demonstration where students learned how to make yogurt and fruit parfaits, and an obstacle course where students took part in the NFL PLAY 60 challenge with Carolina Panthers kicker Graham Gano.
Amplifying Summer Meals Efforts
The weekend backpack efforts going on in Rowan-Salisbury show that nonprofits can plug into summer meals efforts in more than one way. Organization may become a sponsor or serve as a site that offers summer meals.
Nonprofits may also do the kind of work that is being modeled in Rowan-Salisbury, which includes far less paperwork than becoming a summer meals site. By raising the funds, purchasing the food, and providing volunteers to assemble weekend food bags, nonprofit partners can donate resources to pre-existing summer meals sites and fill the much-needed gap of weekend food for children in their communities.