By Devin Schroeder, Tulsa Regional Program Manager/Child Hunger, Hunger Free Oklahoma
More than 100 individuals state-wide gathered in Oklahoma City to attend the “Kicking-Off Summer 2019” event. Hunger Free Oklahoma, alongside the Oklahoma Childhood Food Security Coalition, organized the Kick-Off to convene Summer Meal stakeholders invested in improving education and health outcomes for Oklahoma’s kids. Attendees included numerous state agencies, nonprofit and faith-based organizations, tribal governments, youth programming providers, food banks, and school districts. The Kick-Off was an opportunity for partners to connect with one another, exchange best practices and innovative ideas, and learn more about the OSDE-administered Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), also known as Summer Meals.
Summer Meals allows any child or teenager aged 18 years or younger to receive a free, nutritious meal or snack at a summer meal site. The program aims to fill the gap for children who qualify and depend on Free and Reduced-Price meals at school. In Oklahoma, more than 425,000 public school students utilize Free and Reduced-Price meals during the school year, yet only 5% of these students accessed Summer Meals in 2018. In fact, Oklahoma is 51st in the nation for participation in the Summer Meals Program. One of the primary barriers to participation is that many Oklahoma communities lack Summer Meal sites, leaving kids at a higher risk of food insecurity and low nutrition when school is out. Hunger Free Oklahoma recognizes that in order to address this gap, key stakeholders must collaborate to create more awareness about the Summer Meals program and share strategies to increase participation.
This important collaborative work gained momentum during the Kick-Off which allowed attendees to learn more about the Summer Meals program and mingle with veteran program providers. The Kick-Off began with a recognition of the current collective effort of the 174 sponsors and 685 meal sites that worked together to serve 1.52 million meals and snacks to kids last summer. This accomplishment is no small feat, yet there is an incredible need to expand the program and serve more hungry kids across the state.
With this challenge in mind, attendees rotated among eight round-table discussions that addressed such topics as library partnerships, volunteer engagement, building program capacity, and serving mobile Summer Meals spurring new ideas and encouraging attendees to share their experiences in reaching more kids in their communities.
During lunch, catered by Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma’s Hope’s Kitchen, guests enjoyed hearing 2018 Bright Spots highlighting Summer Meal providers’ success stories on how libraries and hospitals can be optimal locations to serve meals to kids. Joy Hofmeister, Superintendent of Public Instruction, joined the conversation as the plenary speaker. Supt. Hofmesiter spoke passionately on how integral nutrition is to a child’s ability to learn and thrive in school. In the state’s education plan, her administration prioritizes expanding child nutrition programs in the state by 2025. Supt. Hofmeister concluded with an unveiling of the newly branded Summer Meals outreach campaign, Food 4 Thought OK: Food, Friends, & Fun.
Following lunch, guests selected from two of four different breakout sessions which included increasing cultural competency, building community partnerships to grow capacity, incorporating fun and simple enrichment activities at meal sites, and an overview of Summer Meal guidelines.
Attendees left the Kick-Off with a bigger network of partners, new ideas and strategies to implement in their own communities, and a renewed sense of urgency to ensure Oklahoma’s kids have access to nutritious meals all year long.
Together we can make 2019 the best summer yet for Summer Meals!
To learn more about Summer Meals, please contact Devin Schroeder at firstname.lastname@example.org.