During the weekends and holidays, many of us look forward to spending quality time with our family and friends, and much of that time is spent around the dinner table. It is important to remember, though, that many children and families will go hungry this holiday season – just as many children do on the weekends when they don’t have access to federal Afterschool and Summer Meal Programs. For many families across the country, the Afterschool and Summer Meal Programs provide healthy meals that parents and caretakers rely on to help ensure their kids are fed during out-of-school time hours. Providing meals on weekends and holidays is a great opportunity for these programs to reach even more kids. Local leaders and city agencies that sponsor meal programs can help fill a critical need by building off of their existing programs to serve weekend and holiday meals. Under the federal Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), public agencies such as public housing authorities and parks and recreation departments, as well as schools, nonprofits (e.g., Boys and Girls Clubs, YMCAs) and faith-based organizations are eligible to serve meals and snacks on weekends and holidays. Many meal program sponsors find it challenging to fully staff their meal sites on weekends and holidays, but they can work with vendors and other partnering organizations to develop a plan to gradually phase in weekend and holiday meals based on existing enrichment programs. A gradual, phased approach could provide sponsors with needed flexibility to respond to staffing and funding needs. Below are a few strategies for cities that are thinking about serving meals on weekends and holidays:
- Utilize existing staff and staff from volunteer programs: In Minneapolis, the Nite Owlz late night teen program is held primarily in inner city parks on Friday and Saturday nights. They are currently expanding their meal service program, and the involvement of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board would allow this program to extend healthy food choices to over 350 teens each weekend night throughout the year.
- Develop creative partnerships between city agencies and community partners: In Washington, D.C., a strong partnership between the Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR), and Metroball, a local nonprofit summer basketball league, has helped to reach over 300 teenagers on Saturdays during the summer. DPR acts as the meal program sponsor and serves the meals at the basketball league sites, and the local police department helps spread the word about the program. Summer meals sites are open in D.C. on Saturdays at select Department of Parks and Recreation Centers, D.C. Public Library locations and community-based organizations.
- Start by serving one meal on Saturdays during the school year. There are approximately 40 Saturdays during the school year, and these days provide a great opportunity for sponsors that implement the Afterschool Meal Program during the school year to serve meals one additional day per week.
About the Author: Jamie Nash is Senior Associate of Benefit Outreach in the National League of Cities’ Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. To learn more about how local government leaders can support out-of-school time meal programs, contact Jamie at email@example.com.