Summer Vacation Doesn’t Have to be a Break from Healthy Meals for Kids

Summer Meals KidsNo matter how many years have passed since you were in school, you probably haven’t forgotten that feeling of anticipation for summer vacation as school winds down for the year. Remember starting to get antsy sitting in class and thinking about sleeping in, homework-free afternoons and the hot summer sun? However, as those familiar with child nutrition programs know, there is a different kind of anticipation felt by kids whose only regular source of meals comes from breakfast, lunch and for some, afterschool meals.

Free meals offered by the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) seek to fill that void for children 18 and under so they won’t go hungry during the summer, and as a result can enjoy their out-of-school time more fully. However, the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) reports that in the summer of 2012, only 1 in 7 of the low-income children receiving free or reduced price meals during the school year were also served by summer meal programs. That means over 85 percent of these children missed out on the opportunity for a healthy meal.

This year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) declared this week (June 2-8) “Summer Meals Awareness Week” in an effort to get the word out and increase participation in these meal programs so that more kids in need are benefiting from free and healthy meals this summer.

NLC, in coordination with FRAC, is currently providing grants and assistance to 15 cities to help them promote and expand participation in afterschool and summer meal programs. While each city’s approach is unique, they have all formed partnerships that incorporate representatives from mayors’ offices or other city departments, local school districts and anti-hunger organizations and/or food banks. These partnerships make clear the crucial role that city government can and should play in ensuring that children have access to healthy meals during the summer months. Below are examples of how two of these cities are working to promote summer meals.

Kansas City, Kansas

KC summer mealsOn May 1, Healthy Communities Wyandotte, housed within the Unified Government of Kansas City and Wyandotte County Public Health Department, hosted a Mayor’s Food Summit. This event brought together over 200 community leaders and residents to discuss the overall goal of increasing residents’ access to healthy fruits and vegetables. The summit featured discussion on increasing availability of nutritious foods in schools and utilizing federal child nutrition programs to improve health outcomes for participating students (in addition to utilization of school gardens and implementing farm-to-school food service). Research has shown that students receiving afterschool meals have a higher daily intake of fruits, vegetables and key nutrients than those that do not.

Mayor Mark Holland spoke of his vision for all residents to have access to healthy foods, better nutrition and a high quality of life. Incorporating the goals of the summit with news of plans for a healthy downtown campus, Mayor Holland spoke of his hope to create a national model to improve urban health. In addition to strong mayoral support for improving residents’ health outcomes, the Kansas City team is utilizing new marketing materials advertising summer meals, and a map of summer meal sites available on the Kansas City Kansas Public Schools website to promote this year’s summer meals.

Providence, Rhode Island

Providence Summer MealsThe Healthy Communities Office, established by Mayor Angel Taveras to focus on healthy living policies, community coordination and systems change in Providence, is working closely with the Parks and Recreation Department and the Rhode Island Community Food Bank to increase participation in this year’s summer meal program.

Utilizing their pass-through grant funds, the team developed a number of marketing materials designed to spread the word — in both English and Spanish — about the availability of free summer meals for kids and teens 18 and under. The messages will appear around the city on printed banners, posters and city street lights; will be sent home with students on door hangers for parents; and will appear on flags posted by tents covering the summer meal sites. In addition to printed materials, the city is making use of local English and Spanish radio stations to deliver the message to parents about where their kids can access free meals this summer. This multi-faceted marketing campaign, combined with a kickoff event in early July, will promote the program to kids and families throughout the city.

As schools around the country begin to close for the summer, many school districts, city parks and recreation departments, city recreation centers, public housing facilities, YMCAs, Boys and Girls clubs, summer camps, migrant centers and Indian reservations are hard at work to ensure that teens and kids have access to nutritional food when they are not in school.

In addition to schools, local governments and nonprofit organizations can also serve as summer meal sponsors. Check out the USDA’s website to learn more about how to become a summer meal site or sponsor, or to learn about where summer meal sites are in your communities.

Also be sure to check out FRAC’s new report, Hunger Doesn’t Take a Vacation: Summer Nutrition Status Report 2014. The report indicates that participation in summer meal programs increased 5.7 percent from summer 2012 to summer 2013, the largest increase in ten years. This growth, which they credit to the tireless work of USDA staff and national, state and local stakeholders to promote participation in summer meal programs, is an encouraging sign for cities investing in program promotion.


Dawn Schluckebeir_headshot

About the Author: Dawn Schluckebier is an Associate for Family Economic Success in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.

Gigabits Around the Country

The National League of Cities’ Center for Research and Innovation has joined with Next American City to explore how cities are developing innovative models for tackling complex urban issues and strengthening their local economies.  NLC is featuring a series of case studies on foreign direct investment, fiber connectivity, and immigration. This blog highlights the second in the series, Gig City, U.S.A.: Bringing Google Fiber to Kansas City, which takes a look at the developing partnership between Google and the Kansas Cities.

The Google Fiber initiative taking place in Kansas City, Kansas and Missouri is an innovative approach to the way cities are collaborating with the private sector to provide robust Internet access to their residents.  Not only are they offering a transformative product but it’s being done with input from all stakeholders, ranging from the local government to the residents.  As Google Fiber still yet to be deployed in Kansas City, KS and MO and stories and lessons learned are yet to be gleaned from this initiative, there are several other gigabit initiatives that already exist around the country.

Chattanooga, TN, Bristol, VA, Lafayette, LA, Morristown, TN, and Burlington, VT have all built their own (municipal) fiber networks and are advertising universal gigabit availability.  What is important to note here is not only the revolutionary impact these speeds can have to local economies but the leadership at the local level to build a sustainable, self-sufficient system.  This two-part blog will look at some of the benefits of city-created and owned networks and then some successful examples of municipal fiber networks.

Why Cities Develop Their Own Networks

Because the private sector may be unwilling to connect everyone in a community, a city-owned network may be the only way to ensure everyone has fast, affordable and reliable access to the Internet.  And the benefits of a city-managed network go beyond universal access.  Many times municipal network speeds can faster and more affordable, comparably speaking.  Other benefits are that these networks can lead to improved and more efficient public service delivery, as with the case of Chattanooga’s electrical utility (see below) or delivering gigabit access to schools at affordable rates (Danville, VA in the next blog.)

Ultimately, the goal with broadband access is to allow people to take advantage of the potential it has to improve the user’s quality of life whether it’s through business development, improved healthcare, education or recreation.  This is a trend we are moving towards but there are some big obstacles to successfully implementing municipal networks ranging from state preemption to the lack of effective planning and business models at the local level.

Chattanooga, TN

Chattanooga is not the only city with citywide gigabit availability anymore, but they were the first in the US.  Their story is a compelling one to highlight as it was largely driven by the city’s desire to provide improved electrical utility services in the community.  Chattanooga’s Electric Power Board (EPB) consists of a 600 square mile service area which is now entirely connected by Chattanooga’s fiber optic network.  This network provides access to 170,000 businesses and homes to Internet speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second.  An important feature to note here, is that access is provided to all areas, regardless of geographical location or income.  Construction of the network did not rely on self-selection by neighborhoods, such as the Google Fiber initiative, but on the premise of enhancing an existing service needed and used by all residents.

EPB provided a variety of telecommunications services to local businesses but in 2007, decided to develop a 10-year plan for the construction of a fiber optic network which would create a more intelligent system for managing their electrical services.  Some of the features included more frequent meter readings and sharing that information with ratepayers real time in addition being able to reroute power in case of storms and disruptions to power services.  The below diagram chronicles the long process of updating their “business model” of electric utility provider to internet provider coupled with a variety of legal issues for the city.

Source: “Broadband at the Speed of Light: How Three Communities Built Next-Generation Networks”, the Benton Foundation and the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, April 2012

The transition from a utility provider to a multi-service provider came about because of the robust quality of a fiber network and the need to find a way to translate it’s benefits beyond just smart meter readings.  In the laying of the fiber conduit, cities saw the benefit this could be for improving other aspects of community development such as in healthcare, small businesses and jobs creation as well as being a service provider to households in a sustainable way.  These are the forward thinking measures cities are leveraging to not only improve services but to reap benefits that far reaching in their economic development goals.

To learn more about these Chattanooga and its gigabit connections, please visit the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and their report “Broadband at the Speed of Light.”

Please visit CitiesSpeak later this week to learn of other cities that have built their own gigabit connections and what it has meant for them.

Measure, Monitor, Adjust, Repeat: Cities Effectively Use Performance Measures to Achieve Community Goals

“What is City government doing?

How well are we doing it?

How can we do it better?”

These three questions guide Devin Quirk’s work for the City of Boston.  Devin serves as Citywide Performance Manager and runs the “Boston About Results” (BAR) Program, an online database of performance measures that, over the last six years, has allowed the city to deliver services more efficiently and effectively to Boston residents. With roughly forty-five city departments contributing monthly and over 2,000 performance measures in all, the BAR program provides a central location to report and monitor city agencies’ progress over time.  Additionally, a publicly accessible scorecard provides transparency and accountability, allowing residents to view and track the city’s responsiveness to various community goals.


Although the comprehensiveness of the BAR program is quite impressive, Devin notes that the notion of tracking government performance through indicators is nothing new.  “The truth is, Boston’s been doing it for decades,” he says.

So if tracking performance is old news, why all the recent buzz around it?

The City of Boston, like many other local governments across the United States, recognizes that establishing baselines and tracking results helps to achieve targets quickly and efficiently.  The city’s Environment Department, which oversees many of Mayor Menino’s sustainability initiatives, utilizes the BAR program to not only track their own efforts, but also identify and work with other departments who are either intentionally or peripherally helping to achieve some of the city’s sustainability goals.  For example, as the city aims to reduce its overall carbon footprint, BAR is used to track greenhouse gas emissions for every large city department, breaking down emissions into four major drivers (gasoline, diesel, electricity and natural gas) and identifying areas where improvements can be made.

Similarly, for the last ten years, the City of Minneapolis, Minn. has used twenty- six indicators to track the community’s progress towards creating a more sustainable city.  For Minneapolis, where sustainability is defined by far more than environmental conservation and protection, these indicators cover a wide range of issues, from public health, education, employment and poverty, to air and water quality, transportation, and renewable energy.  The targets for each of the indicators are quite ambitious and require that the city partner with community groups, non-profits, and residents to achieve them.

It’s clear that the recent innovation and creativity in the field of performance measurement comes in the form of interdepartmental coordination, as well as collaboration with those outside of local government.  For example, we see that to achieve sustainability goals, local governments are recognizing their local partners non-profit organizations; faith-based institutions; and universities (to name a few)—and are accordingly measuring and tracking these groups’ efforts as well.  Similarly, while many cities have a standalone sustainability office, some of the most effective initiatives are those that tap into internal operations, connecting work already carried out by various city departments.  For example, Kansas City, Mo., known for its innovative programs and initiatives, created the Green Solutions Steering Committee, a partnership between 10 city departments that informs and guides the creation of the city’s sustainability metrics.  City staff from these departments pilot tested indicators within internal operations first to ensure that the final indicators chosen are those most relevant for city-wide sustainability goals.  Similarly, the City of Pasadena’s Department of Transportation has reframed its indicators to have a multimodal focus as a way to 1) align with city council’s sustainability interests and 2) help residents understand the tradeoffs between investments in various forms of transportation.

So, in many cases, the type of work isn’t new and the idea of measuring isn’t new, but howwe think about all of it sure is. Particularly for cities invested in advancing sustainability– whether it’s the desire to improve the quality of life for all their residents; increase the number of public parks and open spaces; provide more residents with access to transportation; or eliminate racial disparities in unemployment—comprehensive performance measurement necessitates the type of collaboration and communication that is needed within and outside of city government.

In this vein, cities are recognizing that identifying and developing indicators does not mean starting from scratch.  Rather, Boston’s BAR program and others like it are creative in the way that technology is used to measure the cumulative impacts of (seemingly) isolated initiatives; for sustainability, this means that partnership-based performance metrics are reframing the way local governments engage with stakeholders within and outside of city government.

As Devin says, “The ultimate goal of Boston About Results is not to measure performance, it is to find ways to improve the services we are delivering for Boston.”

Register for NLC’s Congress of Cities in Boston (November 28- December 1) to hear directly from Minneapolis, Kansas City, and Pasadena at the “Utilizing Performance Tools to Measure Your Cities’ Sustainability Efforts” workshop.

The workshop will focus on how data can help to forecast needs; the strategies to dynamically manage long-term sustainability goals; and the types of tools that are most effective to measure and track success.

Speakers include:

  • Gayle Prest, Sustainability Director: City of Minneapolis, Minn.
  • Katherine Carttar, Cookingham-Noll Fellow, City Manager’s Office: City of Kansas City, Mo.
  • Mark Yamarone, Transportation Administrator, Department of Transportation: City of Pasadena, Calif.


Also, come early for a special pre-conference training on “Implementing STAR: The Sustainability Framework Built By and For Local Governments” – Thursday November 29th!

Full conference schedule and registration information can be found here.